Unbalanced – Yes or No

One of the accusations leveled at the UK armed forces is that when compared to its peers, it is unbalanced. Afghanistan, it is said, has produced land force centric military that is unfit for purpose, fails to recognise our ‘maritime outlook’ and is usually accompanied by the clarion call for a strategic raiding, or naval centric strategy. Those turf wars between the forces and associated service politics are characterised as having winners and losers, the Army being a winner because it has been relatively lightly touched by SDSR, I mean, it’s not like we are engaged in a protracted land based operation or anything is it.

So, in a fit of pique and as a reaction to the letters to the Telegraph crowd who seem to think somehow the answer to our woes is more navy, and especially more fleet air arm, i have decided to take a random selection of nations, spark up a copy of Wikipedia (sorry) and have a look. The figures behind the percentages are derived from Wikipedia so apologies for any errors and there are some distortions like counting marines as land forces (or not). I am not looking for pinpoint accuracy, just a general indicator of how badly our forces have become unbalanced.

It also fails to recognise the capital intensive nature of air and maritime forces when compared to land forces but that argument is for another time perhaps.


Country Land % Sea % Air %
Pakistan 87% 3% 9%
India 85% 4% 11%
China 72% 11% 17%
Spain 64% 19% 17%
Brazil 64% 21% 16%
Greece 61% 18% 20%
Italy 58% 19% 23%
France 55% 19% 26%
UK 53% 22% 24%
USA 53% 24% 23%
Australia 46% 29% 25%
Canada 45% 21% 34%
Russia 45% 24% 31%
Germany 43% 37% 20%


Country Land % Sea % Air %
Pakistan 87% 3% 9%
India 85% 4% 11%
China 72% 11% 17%
Spain 64% 19% 17%
Brazil 64% 21% 16%
Greece 61% 18% 20%
UK 60% 19% 21%
Italy 58% 19% 23%
France 55% 19% 26%
USA 52% 26% 22%
Australia 46% 29% 25%
Canada 45% 21% 34%
Russia 45% 24% 31%
Germany 43% 37% 20%

The tables rank them on percentage of land forces expressed against the total.

Most of our peers would seem to hover between 50% and 60% of land forces, with the balance usually split evenly between naval and air. The post SDSR landscape is a proportionally greater reduction in the RN and RAF so although the Army is in fact losing 7,000 personnel, its comparative slice of the manpower cake is greater.

Manpower is not the full story of course, traditionally, naval and air forces are much more equipment intensive so as automation and doing more with fewer platforms is realised this distortion is as much to do with that as any ‘victory’ for the Army. There is obviously much less scope for automation in the Army.

Personnel costs will continue to rise, especially in Western nations, so the means of reducing costs via personnel will always reap proportionally larger dividends.

It is also interesting to run the calculation on the assumption that the RAF and RN have bottomed out in terms of cuts and post 2015 it is the Army that will be downsizing, to 80,000 personnel if the rumors are true.

That reduction would put the distribution within a few percentage points of pre SDSR numbers.

Personnel numbers are ultimately not about equal pain between the services, or some vague notion of equity and fairness, they should be about strategic effect and if we need a more land centric force, or a more maritime centric force because of sound strategic and operational reasons then instead of moaning, the other services should just suck it up and stop crying to the Telegraph.

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February 28, 2011 1:08 am

– Actually, the RAF cried much more incoherently to the press when the Tornados were endangered and might yet do again. (They have, not once because this isn’t a CVA-01 rant, but consistently in budget-shortfall politics since the late 1950s, fought their corner more effectively than either of the more senior services. That’s either, not simply RN “special pleading.” Plus alliance to the stock-market giants like BAe, which has bought out the industries that used to make land and naval gear, Airbus, the Eurofighter consortium which has managed to hit hard times anyway, etc.)

– Both RAF and RN are more technically specialized, with higher unit costs for their platforms (although if you divided gear costs per capita — crew manning and support manning — for RN and RAF, I’d say since the 1960s if not before the RN comes out ahead as cheaper until BAe decided this was another excellent way to jack up formal — govt contracts — and informal — stock values — revenues simultaneously.) But they do also support substantial industries and, I’m sorry, but if those are run properly (don’t steal their R&D budgets as rent for “investors,” good technical-school programs, concentration on finding ways to improve parts logistics and energy-input costs, etc.) they are an enormous contribution to the health and breadth of national industry. Healthy British industrial days weren’t just about Courtaulds, Cadburys, and All That. Armstrong-Whitworth, Vickers, Samuel White, Vosper, etc., were tremendous assets to Britain’s industrial health, the health of its communities where you had skilled and waged employees contributing to rather than leaching the public purse (or depending on the endless shuffling of useless bits of paper or plastic stuff), and to broad technical innovation. Could they exist on the same scale now? Probably not, and without Empire there’s not the need. Could they be more like that than they are now? Hasn’t been tried in a positive fashion — even their late Cold War data points were managed decline, not much innovative renewal.

— Put in those return-on-investment terms, the sharp end of the RAF has become, in some very practical ways, a very poor return indeed. Now, that hasn’t always been true. There were about three good human generations worth of technical innovation in aircraft production that were actually profitable unto themselves. And in that time, smart new aircraft that gave you an edge could be produced with less frailty in larger numbers, so that you had essentially an aerial cavalry (and artillery) available to you that, despite their difficulties in accurately targeting things that weren’t other aircraft, had the leverage to justify themselves. Now the exquisite nature of aircraft design, the ridiculous husbanding of resources by airforces (and knowing a bit about the USAF from my wife’s immigrant-GLaswegian father who was a colonel in it, and a couple of the European forces, the modern RAF sins pretty hard) where not even half of your airframes are rated as available in combatant squadrons (the Royal Armoured Corps would laugh them out of the pub …) and the cost inputs of pilot training, and what you’ve got is not an air cavalry/artillery, it’s a knightly class. Now that’s a problem across the board — fighter jocks can be problem figures, especially when there are fewer of them reinforcing the notion of how L33T they are, as Commander Ward’s rants that give you the vapours can show. But carrier pilots and Apache drivers are tools in a box. With the RAF you have an increasingly small and exclusive (not always thus), service built around them.

– The most fundamentally valuable things the crabs do are three: 1) air defence of the home country, 2) acting as the strategic reserve of air power for sustained conflict against a well-armed foe (like the armour of the Army and, today, the underwater battleships of the RN), and 3) strategic airlift/”wide-angle lens” strategic ISTAR. (Battlefield ISTAR is probably best left to the battlefield services, Army and Naval/Marine. Tools in a box again.)

– The current Army does seem to be not very well balanced tooth to tail. Now, that’s going to be the subject of a series of posts, I know. My own two cents is expand the organic support of all kinds (logistic, arty, helos) for the “multi-role brigades” so that instead of 6000-strong brigades that can’t fend for yourself you have 10000-strong mini divisions that can. And they’re full spectrum: two “armoured cav” style regiments with at least 80 Challys between them, one bn of Warriors, two of Boxer (lets just cut the crap with FRES and get on the production line while costs are coming down), one of “long-riflemen” who are foot- and helo-mobile and quite literally kitted with the 7.62 long barrels rather than 5.56 (one of the few useful things to come out of the Wars of Useless Dirt is specialist riflemen making a comeback.) Add enough organic support under the two-star’s command to make them work, and four of them is quite a lot to work with once you decide that long-term fighting garrisons in unfriendly countries are ACTIVELY INSANE. (Sorry for the caps. But it’s true.) Two such units equals pretty close to Granby and enough (plus entry forces) for Kosovo. One is a Stan-sized op. The lighter elements could be creamed off to go with the door-kickers for Falklands II. Three of them, well-placed, would help hold northern Norway or the SBAs on Cyprus nicely. So good force design and good policy does actually make it possible to “do more with less” with your ground forces. Just can’t let it be jobs for the boys in the rear echelon, especially for the “boys” above Major.

– I understand the PTT-related venom. But I’d have an awfully hard time claiming that Lord Bramall, or Hew “let’s sneak in closer so we can have at them with bayonets” Pike are really in this so they can go to cocktail parties on Royal Navy white elephants. (Ref Pike in particular, the blood and treasure spent by the Paras at Tumbledown was as a crucial maneuver in — taken on the terms of large-scale wars — something just slightly larger than a “strategic raid” devoted to “slapping a (Second?) World dictator” while retaking sovereign British turf. We should get a proper discussion of just what a “strategic raid” looks like, since I think, differently scaled, Entebbe, the Panama invasion, and Narvik/the early Norway landings are all decent cases in favour.) They do, I think, see the symbiotic Army/Navy relationship that served Britain well in conflicts (with a disastrous hiatus roughly 1400-1600) from William the Bastard’s invasion to being able to deploy in force for Granby, Kosovo, and Telic because the Gulf and Adriatic were American lakes. There’s absolutely nothing anachronistic about options and strategic/operational possibilities that have been used by governments, military structures, and human cultures that were as *different* as Wellington’s, the Norman dukes’, Edward III’s, King Alfred’s, Churchill’s, Oliver Cromwell’s, and Maggie Thatcher’s. That’s not some fusty notion of the past (lapsed historian in me talking ;-), that’s **adaptation to changing circumstances** over a remarkably long track record. And it’s not just about pretty floaty things. (I wouldn’t like to take my chances with a TARDIS telling blokes who’d been at the Four Days’ Fight, Copenhagen the first time, Jutland, the North Cape, etc., that they weren’t involved in “proper” combat.) The RAF’s quite capable of contributing to such things. But they need to get more aircraft actually in the line. (They wear out faster? So we have to make more sooner, and the companies that make them won’t be able to count on massive stock options of exquisite airframes and drawn-out contracts? Shame about that. National fecking defence matters more.) And they need to rebuild ISTAR for effective long-distance jointness. And they have got, got, got to have enough strategic lift to at least deploy themselves, much less substantive parts of the other services.

– Germany’s always a bad example to draw on, likewise Russia, Pakistan, etc. They each of them are fundamentally “continental” powers, who can choose to have a navy or not. If you look at Spain, or the Dutch, or the Italians, or frankly the US, that dimension changes. And until they six-lane the Chunnel and slip some Prozac to the French customs guys, that remains true here too.

— For someone with your strength of conviction you’re admirably balanced about this. And you run one of the two best milblog sites I’ve ever seen. It’s remarkable. But they’re not white elephants. Please stop calling them that. Their flaws are the result of 1) the most self-interested defence mega-contractor that HMG does business with, 2) the dog’s breakfast of the F-35 (it’s the F-104, now with stealth! And more bribery!), 3) and the *real* failing of the Royal Navy, the terrible political and strategic quality of its recent leadership.

/rant over

On a lighter note, got a neat little trinket from the Sapper Shop after reading your bridge story. Now *thats* capability plus.

February 28, 2011 5:01 am

Oops — left Enfield off that list of defence contractors past! Where would we be without the .303? Speaking conversational German, probably. (No offence meant to Sven, I used to be able to manage conversational Deutsch, and have a chunk of Schweizerdeutsch ancestors. But Id rather have the conversation in the context of modern German political culture, not two out of the three 1900-1950 models.)

February 28, 2011 5:36 am

It surely makes sense for a country with a tight defence budget and an abscence of strategic threats to consantrait its budget on the area of greatest need at the time. That being said I hope the guys in green don’t complain to much post 2015 when the budget goes the other way.

Just one point I would like to make. The British Army at present has around 100,000 men. Everyone in the Media keeps banging on about the British Amry being at its smallest size since Waterloo. Expet during war time the BA has always had around 100,000 men. That despit the fact that the avergae cost of a human employee today is dozens of times higher than it was in the past. The fact that the Army has managed to maintain this magic number while the RAF and RN have seen numbers of ships, aircraft and personal plumit by factors of 3 or 4 in the last two decades alone surely demonstrates that the Amry is taking up an ever lager amount of the budget.

Tony Williams
Tony Williams
February 28, 2011 7:10 am

I don’t really care about percentages of the budget. Each country has its own needs and priorities which will result in different percentages, and in any one country the percentages are likely to change over time as strategic needs evolve.

We need to identify what our defence needs are – obviously, in conjunction with sorting out our foreign policy and treaty commitments and within whatever budget can be afforded – and then determine what forces we need to meet them, and finally how these forces should best be organised (i.e. who should control what).

I have no preconceived notions about any of that, and am willing to look at the arguments with an open mind. I do have very little patience with inter-service pissing contests, though, or devious deals to protect favoured projects.

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
February 28, 2011 7:12 am

The aspiration of retaining a strength of 6 Brigades for the Army in FF2020 is too large, especially if the RM Brigade and Para/SF Brigade are also retained. I also think that the idea of making these Brigades self sufficient will make them bloated. THere is an arguement for enabling these Brigades to operate with minimum outside support for short operation but for longer committemtn the vast bulk should come from a pool a TA and Reservists.

As for the number of brigades, I only see the need for one rapid reaction brigade and I see this role going to the RM. The remaining number of brigades could be reduced to say four with the battalions from the disbanded Para Brigade being assigned individually to each of these with a “Ranger” style role. As has happened in Afghanistan the Armoured battalions should be cross trained to allow them to deploy either in the MBTs or manning MRAVs or other pooled protected transport, In fact I would go as far as to suggest that all infantry should be at their core “Light Role but with training to allow them to deploy as Mechanised or Armoured drawing vehicles from a pool for training or operations. SO you would end up with either cavalry egiments trained to operate in the Armoured, Recce and/or MRAV roles and Infantry trained to operate as Light, Mechanised or Armoured, with units rotating to maintain basic skills sets with additional training when the type required for an peration is identified but their will be units up to speed for short notice deplyments.

Present plans etc seem to be trying to put a square peg ina round hole. Specialisation is all well and good but the Army needs to be built around the Infantryman who in turn need the personal equipment and training to de the job. What form his support takes and how he gets to where he needs to is where the flexibility should reside.

Hope this makes some sense as I have started to confuse myself here so will call a halt.

February 28, 2011 7:35 am

Are these employee numbers or budgets?

Either way, surely I cant be the only one to think Germany, the Supreme Guardian against Russian agression, having a smaller army and larger navy than the UK makes no sense?

February 28, 2011 8:04 am

Evidently, we have different views on some things. For me, a sane SDSR should have started from a few assumptions:

-sea lanes dependency
-global arms race (Russia, India, China ecc…)
-Awareness that, while a direct threat to the UK soil, other than in form of terrorist attack, is currently remote, currently the chances of having to intervene abroad to save the UK’s people and interests are higher than in any other moment of history. The new, globalized world and the new economy means that the UK, like it or not, has more international interests and commitments now than when it ruled Hong Kong, Australia and the rest of the 21% of the world’s land.

I think it is evident that any military operation the UK will face in the coming decades will be expeditionary. The UK is currently unlikely, to say the least, going to fight on its beaches against an invader, obviously.
But it could be forced to intervene, alone or as part of a coalition, in a number of situations of growing nastyness, in which Libya’s evacuation is on the “piece of cake” extreme of the difficulty scale.

Power projection is not, in my eyes, merely landing a brigade of Marines on an enemy beach. Power projection, or better Expeditionary Warfare, is what the UK will have to do in the future.
Whatever crisis might arise in the coming decades, they are very, very, very likely to be abroad. And most probably in the Middle East. An Army stuck in southern england without the means to move to the crisis area and be supported in there is so useless that the nation could do without it, wasn’t for the economic damage and the hundred thousands of further unemployed people that would replace the brave lads everyone rightly takes pride in.

In this optic, calling aircraft carriers “white elephants”, and writing a strategic defence review that cancels the current carrier and treats the future ones almost like a curse, is an abomination no less. Giving up a Bay class ship is also stupid, with how useful it is in a whole range of roles and, moreover, to move troops and supplies in and out of the area of a crisis.

Good luck doing it by air! Even if (instead of being stupidly cut back) the cargo fleet of the RAF had been increased to 10 C17 and 30 A400M, it still wouldn’t have been enough to MOUNT an operation.
It could have better SUSTAINED it, but ultimately the thousands of tons of vehicles, supplies and everything will always end up moving on the sea.

Also, in a world with more and more world-spread economical interests, PRESENCE becomes the key. Showing the flag, patroling, menacing even… it never has been more important than now.
And the easier (and overall cheaper and safer) way to do it is using ships, visiting allied ports, patrolling unsafe waters, doing joint exercises abroad, constantly telling “we do care. We will come if needed. Don’t mess with us”.
Conventional deterrence. As vital, and possibly more vital, than nuclear deterrence.

In this optic, ultimately, my SDSR would have started from a few very firm points:

-Massive reduction in “non-deployable assets”. They are as useless as something simply not there. The home forces, in particular of the Army, must be sized and configured in a role of preparation and support, supplying battalions of personnel to deploy in the cycle, and that’s it.
-A clear policy for the modernization of the RFA, the key for the capability of the UK to be able to deploy, support and maintain presence abroad all over the world via RN. The RFA must also be made capable to sustain LAND deployments from the sea, in much more effective way than it does now: the Joint Sea Based Logistics Ships had to be the key of this, and their silent loss on the ground of budget cuts is a massive blow to capability and ambitions.
-Carrier Strike and Amphibious capability. To be retained absolutely, no discussions here. And to be made more effective and capable, too.
-Protection of sea lanes and presence. Churchill wisely said, during the IIWW, that the Blitz had worried him, but what had truly always scared him were the U-Boots. A defeat in the Blitz would have not doomed Britain. An invasion could still be fought off. The loss of the sea lanes because of the U-boots would have meant losing the war and the country, no escape.
The UK would still be doomed, even today, if the sea lanes were compromised. If the Egyptian crisis had gotten real nasty and Suez had closed, we would have had a war starting in roughly 5 seconds. And that’s just an example of so many vital chokepoints along the seas.
This point i make also means that i would have NEVER thought about losing the Nimrod fleet.

February 28, 2011 8:35 am

Hi jackstaff,

I quite liked what you proposed as a mini-division. A testimony to the US House Armed Services Committee (in 2004) found that ” During Operation Iraqi Freedom, Army brigades in the 3rd Infantry Division had to be significantly reinforced to operate across the Iraq in an environment
where units fought in all directions or 360 degrees. This condition resulted in the
expansion of brigade combat teams…” so there is even a name for your mini-division ” combat maneuver group”
– having at least one of those will in no way exclude having lighter (and smaller) re-brigaded multi-role brigades as well.

Whereas… LJ’s concept of constant rotation through roles found 19 battalions non-deployable exactly for this reason, when scraping together a sufficient force for Iraq.
– so not in favour of it as the main rule; whereas e.g.multi-roling RAC so that is actually deployable (as has been done already)is a rather good idea

February 28, 2011 9:22 am

I think its unfair to call them white elephants, they have been white elephantised.

The problem is and remains money.
They’re badly compromised, because no one was willing to pay for them, one of them will be sold, because they’re badly compromised and no ones willing to pay for them, they’re so expensive, because they’ve been dragged out for over a decade.

Thats its distorted the RN is true, enough, I’d say realigned, the disappearance of the Soviet Sub Threat left the RN with no purpose, the Army got liberal intervention, The Airforce got propping up brylcream sales, the Royal Navy jumped on board liberal interventions with more precision guided high explosives.

A friend of Mr Gladstone
A friend of Mr Gladstone
February 28, 2011 9:46 am

I noticed on Defence Management that the RN is looking to recreate an MPA force – http://www.defencemanagement.com/news_story.asp?id=15587 Given that our new friends the Brazilians are refurbishing ex RAN Trackers and ex USN Traders for MPA sytle operations of their carrier perhaps some of these airframes might be just what the RN needs?

February 28, 2011 10:03 am

I can’t see the figures for Costa Rica in the tables at the top.

And if CVF is white elephant, surely Typhoon is a white whale?

Has Typhoon made it into Afghanistan yet? Commentators here ask me about Trident, perhaps I could ask what threat exactly does Typhoon (very late, way over budget, technical issues, shifting capabilities etc) address? Soviet era bombers over the North Sea? The only place it opposes any threat is the Falklands (and even I think what threat) and how many are there down south? 4. Just about enough to make sure 1 was available for certain; probably just about 2. (Is Typhoon cleared for Harpoon yet….)

Even if CVF becomes a giant LPH is that a bad thing? Perhaps we should ask somebody evacuated from Libya if they would have like to see the UK deploy a dozen or so helicopters to lift them out?

I don’t think some commentators here should be seen as unreasonable, even a bit stupid, just because they are pro-navy. And that is the feeling I get.

February 28, 2011 10:52 am

Havn’t seen it reported anywhere yet , but i was watching RUSSIAN news this week when they reported they are going to spend $650 billion dollars on upgrading their military , to include 1000 new HELICOPTERS , 8 SSBN’S , 100 NEW SURFACE SHIPS and to completely re-equip the ARMY . Are you watching Mr FOX !

Callum Lane
Callum Lane
February 28, 2011 10:53 am

Both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns have demonstrated that UK plc is either unwilling or unable to deploy sufficient troops into Theatre to have the required effect. We need to maintain (in Theatre) 2 x Brigades or (preferably) a Division in order to do so, based on current aspirations as a major player.
We can:
1) Change our assumptions and accept we are no longer a major player (A deployable divisional manoeuvre capability is the benchmark the US has consistently asked us to retain – we’ve lost that already).
2) Increase the size of our armed forces so that we can sustain the increased elements on operations. Highly unlikely in the current political and financial climate.
3) Radically reconfigure our Land forces and how they do business in order that we can more efficiently use the reources that we have. This is very unpopular within the army hierarchy.

Personally I think we should focus more on Maritime and Air capabilities partly because I think our Land forces are too small and inefficient and that backing them is throwing good money after bad, but also because I think the strategic environment is such that we need a better Maritime and Air capability then we currently have or envisage.

February 28, 2011 10:55 am

Q – Unbalanced – Yes or No
A – Yes

UK 60% 19% 21%
France 55% 19% 26%
USA 52% 26% 22%
Canada 45% 21% 34%
Germany 43% 37% 20%

It might also help to provide a link to where the balance question is originating from:


Callum Lane
Callum Lane
February 28, 2011 10:56 am

To reinforce my last post this quote is from a speech delivered by US Defence Secretary Gates at Westpoint on 25 Feb 2011:

“Looking ahead, though, in the competition for tight defense dollars within and between the services, the Army also must confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements — whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf, or elsewhere. The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they Army or Marines, airborne infantry or special operations, is self-evident given the likelihood of counterterrorism, rapid reaction, disaster response, or stability or security force assistance missions. But in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined,” as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”

February 28, 2011 11:06 am


don’t think thats quite fair, if the MOD had tried to buy an LPH (and then delayed it) it would also have ended up costing more than it should


logistics by sea is more the 4 RoRo ferries from Marchwood than it is amphibious vessels. The amphibs (which I admit are usefull for other things) have not seen much use in their intended role of assault from the sea, I suspect that is the reason they were sacrificed.

February 28, 2011 11:11 am

“The 1945 percentages were roughly

Army, 60%
Air Force, 22%
Navy, 18%”

Not exactly surprising given the fact that the largest ever land war just ended, and we were occupying Germany…

Third world banana republics are always telling the world that in 12 years time they’ll be taking on the world, 12 years later, theres just a new set of claims.
Putin was saying this 4 years ago, PAKFA is still a Powerpoint presentation he want to lever $6bn out of the Indians with

February 28, 2011 11:23 am

“This looks like we are slightly unbalanced in comparison with our peers, BUT, it is entirely right and understandable at the moment.”

Quite right, afghanistan was always going to distort the SDSR, how could it not.

“In 2015 the suggested reduction to 80k Army will pull things back to France/USA levels.”

Indeed, so we must all dampen down hysteria about army numbers post afghanistan when it rears its ugly head.

Brian Black
Brian Black
February 28, 2011 11:29 am

Maybe we should forget about balance in terms of the UK on its own; find a balance in the context of combined NATO, or EU, forces.

Minimise in some areas in order to specialise in others. Focus on one set of capabilities and do them well, instead of trying to be a jack-of-all-trades.

February 28, 2011 11:33 am

i’m not disagreed, but that would rather suggest that we specialise in our areas of sole competence such as naval taskgroups with carrier air and embarked amphibious forces, whilst leaving large and heavy ground formations to germany, etc etc…….

February 28, 2011 11:55 am

Hi BB,

I quite agree “Maybe we should forget about balance in terms of the UK on its own; find a balance in the context of combined NATO, or EU, forces”
– and the first action should not be to hive off ARRC HQ to someone else, rather to see it as an essential element of providing theater-level elements to a joint expeditionary force
– also, to have pre-agreed charters, so that those other elements will be there, too
– UK & France to specialize in the spearhead intervention (but again pre-agree that the spear will follow, manned e.g. from other contributers to the EU standing Battle Groups)

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
February 28, 2011 2:07 pm

@ Brian, Jedi, and ACC – So if a theoretical EU force had to go in to Libya we would leave the front line stuff to Italy, Spain, etc and provide support capabilities such as transport, ISTAR, coastal MSO, etc?

February 28, 2011 2:17 pm

In preplanned, dedicated EU Army, it would make sense that the Eastern States provide powerful Land Armies, the southern states provide Litoral dominance in the Med, The Northern States would cover the Baltic and the North Coast.
By Process of elimination, the UK and France get C4ISTAR, Air dominance, Strategic Bombing and amphib Forced Entry.

We could Suez the **** out of North Africa, we’d just need Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, and the like to follow on with occupation troops.

February 28, 2011 2:30 pm

Hi GJ,

Not quite that straightforward: “and provide support capabilities such as transport, ISTAR, coastal MSO, etc?”
– there is a standing amph. group in the Med, on the same lines as the Anglo-Dutch one (that one is oriented northwards, more)

All those assets that have been deployed, especially further inland, would still (have) be(en) relevant; the difference
– no-fly zone at a moments notice
– beach heads secured not just for evac, but also for humanitarian supplies
– simple message: we won’t take ground, but get in the way and get shot

No waiting for days on end to get a ship (or two) in position

All under the umbrella of the Madrid process (that was a long time ago! – not just focussing on Palestine, but engaging with the southern shore of the Med), just a little bit firmer, as in being friends of the people, rather than of dictators?

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
February 28, 2011 2:34 pm

Callum, a couple of points re your Gates quotation, given Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in ’91, sending a large force into the Middle East becomes a logical and sane choice.

As for ‘tight defense dollars’, the US Army still found several million dollars to sponser one of the race cars in the NASCAR. I feel Mr Gates’ speech is very selective in this respect.

February 28, 2011 2:38 pm

Rather than looking at purely inter service numbers, I think we should be looking at defence capability areas. Perhaps we should even create “Capability Heads” who are independent from the three services and objectively determine what is required. How about:

* “Home Guard”: Defence of the UK, including counter terrorism and nuclear defence.

* “Costal Command”: Defence of the UK air space and econmomic exclusion zones and dependencies.

* “Expeditionary / Global Command”: Defence of UK interests and nationals abroad and supply routes.

Once as a country we have agreed on what our capabilities should be in each of these we can then talk seriously about what the splits should be in both manpower and equipment. Probably too sensible however…

For me, if the role of “Expeditionary / Global Command” is to be anything beyond token capabilities there needs to be significant investment in the RN (including the two CVFs).

February 28, 2011 2:42 pm

TD said: “So in summary, I don’t think that we are actually imbalanced at all, on paper yes, compared to our peers yes, but in reality, no.”

Of course we are massively imbalanced ! Why wouldn’t we be when we have been fighting two land wars for 10 years ?

Will post 2015 cuts to the army and a return to pre-SDSR percentages make it “right” – No of course not.

The correct balance can only be achieved through clear foreign policy objectives, a clear vision of the UK’s grand strategy and thus military strategy and doctrine based upon it. Therefore the UK armed forces have a cat in hells chance of ever achieving any kind of balance at all.

TD said: ” Jed will be able to comment on USN manning levels.”
Oh yes, at least 3 Yankee sailors to every honest Jack Tar m’lud….. I think all of their forces are somewhat more specialised than hours.

However, note that there is a significant movement in the US to repeal the law that states all funding must be split equally amongst the branches of the armed services, so that more could be spent on the USN which is facing mass obsolescence of the surface fleet, and the potentially huge costs of replacing its deterrent SSBN fleet.

In the end stats for other countries mean nothing, comparison to our “peers” mean nothing, the only thing that makes sense is to have the split between the 3 branches of the armed forces based on the utility of the capabilities they provide in the context of our published strategy and policy.

In which case, my your god of choice help us….. :-(

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
February 28, 2011 3:51 pm

@ Dominic – “We could Suez the **** out of…” I’m nicking that one! Essentially What I was thinking, a major force enabler for EU/other coalition, with the ability to act independently at a small/medium level.

@ ACC – interesting, I like the idea. We (UK and Europe ) do require a wide range of possible force intensity; HA, DR, peace-keeping, peace-making, full war. Of course where those capabilities reside is the question.

@ Repulse – Have been thinking along the same lines myself: Home Defence command (Joint) and British Expeditionary Command(Joint), each with dedicated capabilities/assets but some transferable between the two; e.g. “Coast Guard” vessel for the Caribbean or similar MSO operation, field hospitals for civilian emergencies at home or abroad, etc?

paul g
February 28, 2011 4:19 pm

hmmm being a thick ex pongo, who owns the design for the CVF? I know there was a maaa-whosive project team at abbeywood, however the reason i ask is if the french can sell mistrals to russia, who says we can’t sell the CVF to the russians? They like the ski ramp design, plenty of videos on youtube of their aircraft flying off present russian carriers, i doubt if they are keen on nuke power ships so let’s go i have checked but i believe the deal for the french ships is 1 built in france and then a license to build in russia. If the MOD have control of the license, quids in (i’m not holding my breath though if BAe smell a sheckel to be made, barstewards)!!! Again like my other recent posts, just a thought.

February 28, 2011 5:25 pm

@paul g

And you would give Russia aircraft carriers while the UK tries to suicide by doing whatever it can possibly do to lose all its naval aviation capacity…?
God bless the CVF contract and its penalties! They have saved the UK from committing the stupidest action EVER for the 3rd time in its history.

paul g
February 28, 2011 6:15 pm

No i was saying if there’s a chance to make some money for the MOD from the design then if it could be tied into the CVF budget ie it’s CVF owned design. then that money goes back into the CVF budget makes it cheaper helps with the “cause” let’s face facts here putin is going to get his aircraft carriers, suicide bombers in airports and unrest on the borders. so ergo might as well be our design he uses, pound to a pinch of shit there are other nations beating a path to his door with that money being thrown around

John Hartley
John Hartley
February 28, 2011 7:33 pm

Army vs RN vs RAF battles only result in victory for the Treasury.
£4 billion a year has been taken from defence & given to DfID.Give that back to defence & our forces(all of them) would look more balanced.

February 28, 2011 7:42 pm

Are the forces out of balance yes. RAF and Navy need to expand in the future though TD your point about lean manning is valid.

As for the carrier absolutely vital. If the currently unrest does not make you stop and ask your self about the absolute guarantee of host nation support in trouble spots then im afraid nothing will. Even the last iraq war should. Turkey refuse all permissions to base a/c, people in its country but allowed over flight rights carriers supported the northern front from the med.
In the south saudi refuse any strike aircraft on its soil only ISTAR, tanker aircraft and air defence fighters. So strike aircraft were mainly on carriers on further away requiring more air tanking.

February 28, 2011 10:12 pm

@ TD

i accept your point that it is not as simple as looking at manpower alone, for all the reasons you mention above, but it is an important indicator none the less.

as you noted earlier today, of course it appears unbalanced right now after 10 years of non-stop counter-insurgency in two different theatres, but post 2015 we can and should rectify that.

February 28, 2011 11:55 pm


“We could Suez the **** out of ….”
Oh, God. Soft drink, for the drinking of, one mouthful, movement to contact with laptop screen. It’s so wrong of me but that made the “inner viking” smile very wide.

Mark @ 7:42

Yes. Carrier air is 1) jointness already and most importantly 2) military sovereignty short of nukes. Another example is Kosovo (or Libya pre-“El Dorado Canyon” in 1986), where if allies demurred, the US (or as late as the 1960s the UK and on a good weekend France) could mass a mid-sized contemporary European air force on some carrier decks abreast of a potential target and have at it without collective decision-making. This didn’t always happen, but it was powerful leverage to move collective decision-making in a more active direction. And in 1990, even though the late Cold War USAF was the last truly expeditionary separate air force in the world (capable of deploying itself pretty rapidly in some strength with speed to achieve deadly effect in a crisis) for the first fortnight, when Iraq might have chanced northern Saudi, it was US carriers that underwrote the RSAF.

@Lord Jim far above (and tweaking ACC’s note of approval, thanks for that :)

I would give those four “combat groups” the flags of 1-4 UK Divisions (distribute 5 and 6, plus a pair of historic TA flags like 15 Scottish, among a revitalised TA.) The “divisions” of Wellington, the Haldane reforms and Op Granby were very different beasts but shared the name. They were just the largest unit of tactical employment (once you get to echelons above, you get staff-school grads writing fusty papers about whether that’s a strategic or operational level.) Big enough to contain self-sustaining logistics, transpo, and fires support, bigger than anything that could reasonably be called a brigade (the French “brigades,” their rather sensible Cold War “pocket divisions” with a haircut, are pushing it.) “Brigades” could be ad hocced off them under a brigadier for specific operational tasks, but really they’re a versatile new species of division that could get there in time.


For someone as firmly on the left as I am, I’m pretty dubious on the future of the EU as we know it. An interdependent Europe from the ground up is a good thing, but this is no more stable in the face of real-world change than the Grand Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, another “European idea” for the Right Sort of People. However, sensible operational arrangements within alliances are a good thing. I think quite tight cooperation with historic allies on the northern flank, especially the Dutch, Canada, and Norway, is a good thing (I’d nudge the cloggies to group their non-airmobile ground forces into a like-model division, so you have a corps-sized pool of three British and one Dutch on which to draw, with one UK formation withheld for sovereign tasks. And I’d turn the Marines of both into integral 1000-strong battlegroups (no reason a Commando should just be another name for a line battalion) with some echelon-above support in the British structure, so then you have five and good amphib resources. Plus naval, air, and domestic defence (of Arctic frontiers) by the Canucks and Norse. Those resources could swing south, too. Italy’s developing a rather good concept with their Forze di Proiezione del Mare (a just-about full amphib brigade and the resources to move it, with Fincantieri’s new contract for LHDs) for example. But I suspect such structures should be built around shared interests because those are more enduring than position papers written from a European superstructure that may not last.

on Commands (love the parade of R-classes, btw :)

That’s very nicely out of the box. I want to think it over before saying any more but share the compliments you’ve got already.

@ John Hartley at 7:33

That is sadly, why the MoD must die. Like some other flawed supra-structures (*cough* Brussels *cough*) it just makes divide-and-rule easier for the moneymen and, by caging the service chiefs together, makes them think there might be one service to rule them all. Put them each in their own shop, so excessive cuts don’t hide in a big fuzzy thing called “Defence” but are advertised as specific capabilities lost; and also because, like neighbouring nations, it may force the services eventually to recognise, as they sometimes did pre-MoD, that fighting each other just creates exhaustion and failure, while finding workaday mechanisms to coexist can benefit them all. More likely purple from below than above, basically.

And an apology/correction: 3 PARA fought at Mt. Longdon. Tumbledown was a Guards show (who were on my mind for other wheels spinning.) Each of them deserves the correct honour.

February 28, 2011 11:59 pm

Another correction (oy): those integral marine groups would be sovereign, ie all-Brit or all-Cloggie, but like structures meant to live and deploy organically from their amphibs when rotated onto duty. And often they’d be handling sovereign tasks, but like UK-NL Amphib of Cold War days, they’d train and pool together in an alliance crisis.

March 1, 2011 12:04 am

@ Jed,

I vote for Terry Pratchett’s God of Hangovers. Prayed to him a few times, and he seems to mean business.

El Sid
El Sid
March 1, 2011 1:24 am

@ming (10:52)

The Russian thing isn’t new, see eg this report from before Christmas :


It’s 20 trillion roubles over 10 years, with 21% on R&D and 79% on procurement. At current exchange rates that’s £42.6bn per year in total, £33.6bn per year on procurement. To put it in context, that’s only about twice the UK’s defence procurement budget – and I suspect that most of the Russia expenditure will end up in the Pacific rather than the Atlantic….

Interesting looking at their priorities as put in that article – boomers first, then SAMs, C3, PAK-FA and £10bn/year on the Navy. Remember too where they’re coming from – the Wikileaks documents suggest that the Russian forces had declined to the point where they’d struggle to start a fight in a Glasgow pub.

Talk is cheap, we’ll see what actually gets delivered – remember when our politicians were promising 12 T45 and so on?

March 1, 2011 3:11 am

Jackstaff at 11.55z

You forgot the Danes ! How could you forget the Danes…..

Seriously, both Army wise and Navy wise, there is no reason why the UK should not be in the Nordic Battlegroup, nor any reason why Canada should not join it. What is really weird considering the size of the Canadian arctic, is that the only real arctic trained troops we have are Reservists (mostly Inuit and other indigenous peoples) of the ‘Rangers’. For broader coalitions add Sweden and Finland, and you have could have both a serious amphibious and littoral capability, we could provide the RFA based logistics to their smaller units.

Ahhh, only a politician could turn down the thought of working with so many blonde female military types….. sigh…..

To be honest the nordic thing has a real pragmatic side to it, a lot of the populace of these countries speak English already (many better than wot I do…). During cold war NATO it did not really matter if the UK Armoured Div was bordered by Germans and Belgians for instance, because with a Corps there were probably enough English speaking staff officers and comms professionals, down at Division and Brigade level you would mostly (or completely) have been working with your own nationality. In this brave new world of composite formations, the units working together are going to be much smaller, and working in much closer cooperation, so a common language is going to be way more important.

Mediterranean equivalent – France and Spain to join the Italian capabilities, maybe Portugal too (I think they have Marines), perhaps they could reinstate Latin as the common language……

March 1, 2011 4:03 am

@ Jed just above 0311Z (for those of us in North American time zones :)

*Facepalms forgetting the Danes*. I like the Danes on all levels, and yes, that has included some delightful draughts of Carlsberg in Sjaelland with young blonde women I remember very fondly. Leaving that aside I like the hell out of the Danish armed forces too. Love their navy (go get those pirates, lads! There’s an Absalon-class on the job as we speak :) And really, putting the Dutch, Dano-Norwegians, and perhaps a bit of the Germans or Belgians on-side with British elements pretty much recreates the force the Duke of Marlborough won wars with.

And you’re quite right about NORTHAG days. The Belgians who manned BAOR’s right flank and the Germans/Dutch to their northerly left operated on those principles. And I wouldn’t necessarily have composite units, myself, because you still need availability to handle sovereign issues. But they can get used to a “new AFNORTH” that really *is* “north” (like Finnmark/Svalbard, sheep-shaggingly cold values of north.)

The French will do as they do. The Spanish and Italians are already cooperating and should continue to do so with their wonderfully designed new ships and solid corps of marines (I have a couple of old American friends who are ex-jarheads, known for nothing if not their service’s self-regard, who were in Somalia alongside the San Marco Regiment and had nothing but good things to say about them.) Portugal does have marines, and a pretty squared-away little military for that matter, given their size and poverty. And it’s Britain’s oldest alliance (I think London still owe them a company of archers good and true or something if cack hits the Portuguese fan.) So maybe a little politicking for allies down there, anything to outflank Les Froggies ….

Oh. Best Scandinavian joke ever. An Icelander, a Faroese, and a Norwegian get falsely accused of crimes in a tin-pot dictatorship. Plunked in the same cell, sentenced to death. Do they have last requests, says the warden. “Yes,” says the Icelander, “I want to sing a 4,000-line saga about my journey here, the tragedy of my unjust conviction, and the heroism of my death.” Lovely jubbly, says the warden. What about the Faroese? “I just want a great last meal of old family favorites: you know, pickled herring, smoked puffin, sheep’s brains with all the trimmings.” We’ll see what we can do, says the warden. And the Norwegian? “I just ask that you kill me before the song and the meal.”

March 1, 2011 4:12 am

Jackstaff -cracking joke but I laughed more at the “sheep shaggingly cold north” – make that “seal shagging” and your approaching “real” cold. Never imagined when I lived in the UK standing at the bus stop of a morning in minus 25 C with wind chill would be “normal” and actually not very cold when properly attired. Also, what the hell are you doing up at 4.03 ? Just come of the Middle or just gone on the Morning watch ??? :-)

March 1, 2011 4:29 am

No, it’s not that many bells on the Pacific side of your continent, where I am these days. And while it’s not “back East” bad, get up to elevation out here and yes, the seals (if any get stuck that far up!) won’t turn you down. Were you already in Canuckistan for Op Recuperation in ’98? The shape of things to come since, even on both sides of the border it seems ….

March 1, 2011 5:38 am

Oh, and speaking thoroughly OT at this late hour (even here) about blondes, Adrienne Arsenault works just fine for me :)

March 1, 2011 8:12 am

Hi jackstaff,

RE “but like UK-NL Amphib of Cold War days, they’d train and pool together in an alliance crisis”
– I just read a Dutch defence reform appraisal where they deplore the lesser integration (than before) of the two marines forces. That was news to me as equipment commonality, like getting CB90, still seems to be a consideration

What was clear from that same appraisal is
1. they are seeking tighter integration of their Marines and Army for “light infantry” type of deployment, and
2. their air-assault brigade is seen as an armoured formations replacement, which in the UK does not seem to count. The latter is still the more surprising when considering the history of the formation: a highly mobile and hard hitting formation to close gaps that might emerge in a fluid battle of massed armour

March 1, 2011 8:20 am

Hi Jed,

RE “add Sweden and Finland, and you have could have both a serious amphibious and littoral capability”
– this kind of formation is being set up, for the next stand-by period of the Nordic Battle Group in the EU rotation
– the previous one was a pure “land” formation whereas now there will be ships and large hovercraft earmarked as well, in addition to Marines (Coastal Jaegers) from both countries

… but I guess your emphasis was on further pooling of capability across borders?

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
March 1, 2011 9:27 am


I think calling the 4 “Combat Groups” Divisions is a bit along the lines of calling a squadron a wing. I was aiming for a maximum of 5 battalions per brigade, 3 Infantry of which one would be the equivelent of a Ranger style unit, 1 Armoured/Recce Battalion and 1 Artillery Battalion. However the similarity to the French “Pocket” divisions is appropriate but they also name flights after Squadrons in the Air Force.

Turning to the bigger picture, I fear there is only a very small chance of the Army and Navy increasing in size to balance the Army post 2015. There is no firm policy by any of the Political Parties to increase defense spending at that time only the personal opinion and wish of Cameron. Far more likely is that the Army will shrink in a major way.

Reading evidence given to the Defense Select Commitee recently amny “Professionals” believe that the disjointed approach taken by the SDSR regarding Sraegy, Defence and Security is a problem thet is likely to get worse. The GOvernemnt refuses to accept this pinning its hopes on the Defence Reform programme currently underway to resolve many of the issues whilst essentially sticking its head in the sand and hoping no new emergency appears over the next few years. As for gaps in capability again they refuse to recognise this saying that other means exist to fill these but does admit these might not be as capable!

So the Army/RM could possibly drop to a few as 30 fighting battalions/regiments with similar reductions in tail units such as Logistics, Engineering for example. At these level it is critcal that a decison must be made as the whether we specialise on a particualr capability or try to retain a broader spectrum, rotating brigades through different roles every 4-5 years, retaining core skills in many competences. The former will leave major holes in our capability to operate in certain types of operation but we will have sufficient number to maintain those we do get involved in. The later allows a far greater variety of operations to be carried out but lacks the depth of resources to sustain them far any length of time.

March 1, 2011 10:28 am

Another distortion with personnel based statistics is in the assumption that air and sea are in competition with land. In fact they are not.

With land more is better. If your mission is to take and hold land then the more people you have the better.

Not so with sea and air. With air the measure of effectiveness is the number of aircraft you can deploy. Adding more people has no value if the number of aircraft remains the same. If you have 100 aircraft then naturally you will need 100 pilots being the people who do the combat bit, but beyond the pilots everyone else is in support, and if you’re setting out to be efficient then you will limit the support numbers to no more than you need.

Similarly with the navy. What counts is the number of ships you have not how many sailors sail on them, as long as it is enough to do the job. If a new ship with 100 sailors replaces an old one with 200 sailors that, efficiency wise, is better not worse.

Therefore, in an extreme example an efficient spread of personnel might give you very skewed statistics of, say:

Air 1%
Sea 1%
Land 98%

March 1, 2011 11:06 am

I agree, the spread of personnel does seem an unreliable statistic to measure much beyond manpower costs. Using it to compare the three services are like comparing apples, pears and oranges.

I’d be interested to see the stats for deployed / available assets versus total assets. That may give a very broad guide to efficiency of the three services. I would expect however the “efficiency” of personnel to be less than equipment.

If we aim for a 25 – 40% availability across the board and we know what we need for our front line commitments then hey presto we know the balance (and whether we are out of balance).

Having said that, as we all know statistics can be used to support (or distort) any argument

March 1, 2011 11:10 am

True to a point, but increasing the number of pilots and maintainers increases the number of flights an aircraft can make.

Cutting crew is good, but there does become a point when you simply stop doing things that cause work down the line.

You can run a 150ft motor yacht with just a captain, but it’ll spend every other month in dock with the dockside maintenance staff.

That also doesnt take into account that a ship or plane can only be in one place. If you want to take and hole more sea, you need more ASW ships, just like if you want to take and hold more land, you need more infantry battalions.

The question is do you want to beat the **** out of someone or sleep in their guest room.
A short sharp fight requires a few high end platforms.
A long occupation needs many platforms.

Thats equaly true of Armoured Divisons to Colonial Police as it is Aircraft Carriers to Corvettes.

March 1, 2011 2:51 pm

since so many people are quoting the gates speech, an interesting discussion about it is happening here:


March 1, 2011 3:13 pm

TD@ 7.36am – yep it would appear so ! see photo half way down the page: http://www.army.forces.gc.ca/land-terre/cr-rc/photos-eng.asp

Lord Jim @ 9.27 – “So the Army/RM could possibly drop to a few as 30 fighting battalions/regiments with similar reductions in tail units such as Logistics” – yep I agree 27 Army and 3 Marine Commando’s or even better, 26 Army and 1 Marine Commando, everything in ‘square’ Brigades of 4 battalions/batteries/squadrons with 4 stage roulement, but more on that when TD gets into it later.

RichardW @ 10.28 – that’s exactly what I meant by capabilities driven by strategy (as well as budget!) if your strategy is land centric in anyway, it will “skew” the numbers, but that as you quite rightly point out does not necessarily mean unbalanced forces.

March 1, 2011 3:50 pm

I wonder if all those “expeditionary warfare” proponents here have read population projections or some reports on human development. Afghanistan was and is one of the least developed countries. The worlds single super power and her mightiest allies are not able to bring the least developed country to peace. And there are some still dreaming.

But hey, “we can solve it by airstrike and spare the life of our boys”. Ummm… yes… the result was an uprising and an erosion of belief in western values and intentions.

Conclusion: there cannot be any expeditionary warfare – be it amphibious or airborne – under the levels of Afghanistan anymore. And – honestly – I can’t see the UK being involved in the next 10-20 years, due to the british public being strictly opposed.

What we will be able to do are hit-and-run assaults with vertically inserted special ops forces. Deterence by nukes, Tomahawks and Typhoons/F35. Add to this: strategic information gathering, some coast-guard style and humanitarian aid missions, minor tasks done by UAVs and UUVs, maybe ballistic missile defence, and protect Canary Wharf from being hacked.

And since we want to remain UNSC-power, we need some really big ‘uns on the oceans, making showing-the-flag port calls to impress foreign nations with inflatable airplanes.

I don’t say this is desirable, but if I review the SDSR under these premises, it is getting sense.

March 1, 2011 4:26 pm

At the very heart of the post-SDSR debate is the lack of concision and clarity from the MoD and FCO (and the NSS) with regard to the UK’s future defence posture. This appears to have occurred due to a number of coalescing issues that, at root, point to a fractured national identity, a vagueness about the UK’s role in the world, and the growing movement of ‘declinism’ that seems to have taken hold within the media and elsewhere. Force levels generated by the UK thus will not reflect the potential strategic realities of the world from 2020 onwards, rather they are a product of the following:
1. Increasingly politicised and media savvy senior officers within all three services seeking to justify future force levels based on ‘what we are doing now’ rather than ‘what will probably be’ (hence Afghanistan wins it for the Army, and a 60% + balance for them).
2. Increasingly ill-informed senior politicians. The linkup at the most senior levels in Whitehall seems to be fraying badly. High technology, high intensity warfare exposed to the glare of 24 hour media needs sharp, well educated minds to plan and execute at political levels. Remember, the military are servants to the government, and too many times we see weak political leadership overwhelmed by top brass and medals.
3. Lack of a cold rational detachment from sentimental ideas about how the Army, Navy and Air Force should look, and how they should operate.
4. The drive to save a lot of money NOW, not later.
Ultimately, balance of force always follows on from ‘the last war’ and we shall be no different for the next few decades. The ever present news cycle delivers constant reminders of the importance of Afghanistan and the efforts of the Army there, and whilst their operations are both important and impressive we ‘the public’ lose the bigger picture on global events. One can easily also level accusations at the media for skewing the debate in ways which distort events and box politicians and money-men into corners.

March 1, 2011 8:40 pm


Air power, we need more of it!

However it is worth pointing out that according to some reading i did 2 – 3 months ago pre ww1 one 6th of govt income was being spent on the navy. Historically we were vastly slanted towards the RN. (Get a copy of Lord Peter Wimsey, The 9 Taylors, BBC video version; 1st episode sets it out in a few short sentences (High end authoritative source I Know) but very entertaining).

We have in effect been forced out of our natural leaning towards the sea and expedition by the Kaiser and AH. Remember when Spain was the World power Charles 5th came to England because of our navy. Now I am forced to accept that technology has moved on a bit since the square rigger and the dreadnaught. But do not think the principle has.

We should simply stop trying to keep an army capable of high end total war (in particuar as all we are getting are (in the terms of such capabilities a tiny amount of soldiers with little in the way of spares and support). It is a ‘capability’ we should just give up. If you scrap the challanger/ the 155mm heavy tracked artillery the transporter with the PFI; The rescorces manpower can go on Fres etc/ reorganisation into the mini divisons already postulated on this site.

I care not how the back end, to teeth end ratio of the UK stands in relation to other armies its ratio is just not sustainable. The idea of 2 or 3 combined ops home and away commands seems to make a lot of sense at first sight.

In short what ever the ratio we should consider reducing the army expenditure still further!

March 1, 2011 8:54 pm

Without sounding like the tag line to Sea Quest DSV the oceans are going to become increasingly important for the future of mankind.

Did anybody catch Radio 4’s You and Your’s today on International Aid?

March 1, 2011 9:16 pm

“However it is worth pointing out that according to some reading i did 2 – 3 months ago pre ww1 one 6th of govt income was being spent on the navy.”

Bigger slice of a smaller pie, 15% of 10% isnt that different from 3% of 50%

March 1, 2011 9:41 pm

lol I have been out of this convo too long to make any good point now, so I’ll yak away and drop a H-Bomb;

What if all these cuts get to a point where all armed services should be moulded into one componenet? Like the Candian Armed Forces.
Air, Land, Sea merged into some sort of concoction…. sacrilige! But one has to think, it may be on the cards if more cuts resume, but back to reality, the forces, each arm of them; are too sacred to merge or get change too drastically.

Unbalanced? Of course we are! Hells Bells, if it wasn’t Afghanistan then it was Iraq, and if it werent for Iraq and it was the cold war… but we’ve been unbalanced for a while now, and will continue to do so until 2015 or so – apparently.

Whether or not thats a good thing at the moment is hard to tell, we seem to manage for now with what we got – its a thin streatched line of course, but people have been warning that it’d ‘snap’ for quite a while, though heaven forbid if it did actually snap, can’t bare to think about it!

And perhaps that is the key problem?

lol a rant really, since 2 Squadron of Tonkas go along with 2,700 jobs… the army and navy are to loose more, and sadly those currently on deployment who are due to come back in April will still be considered…

March 2, 2011 12:35 pm

“Air, Land, Sea merged into some sort of concoction…. sacrilige!”

Defence is in the worst shape since the reign of Charles I.

Shortly followed by the days of Cromwell, when the Navy was merged in command with the army. Within 5 years after that, the English Navy was completely rebuilt and came out as the strongest in Europe.

Sacrilege? Or best practice?

March 2, 2011 9:42 pm

Interesting stuff McZ, but during the victorian period it all fell apart again, if I remember right; Navy relying on old Nelson rep. and the army led by officers who paid for their positions… seems we’ve had a long period of fluctuation between Sierra Hotel and pi$$ poor.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
March 2, 2011 10:21 pm

During the Victorian period the British Army was surprisingly small, but could afford to be due to the size of the Indian army; officers were British but troops of all major religions/ethnic groups.


March 4, 2011 11:30 am

OK here’re some questions;
1. Is the Army capable of (for sake of argument) peer on peer warfare? If this is what we want it to do. If this is not what the Army is for, then is it capable of a sliding scale of Ops other than war?
2. Are the RAF and RN capable of getting the Army to where it needs to be to conduct P-o-P or Ops other than war, and then support those operations in a an effective and appropriate manner?

I think that the question of balance is intrinsicly tied into the ability to actually get into theatre and support troops once they are there. This is not necessarily about hi-tech fast and/or shooty things that cause huge explosions.

So question #3. How many personnel and how much materiel can the services move and how far? And, once there how much of the above can be realisticaly supported and supplied and for how long?

Right, now I’ve got that out of my system I’ll appologise for any grammatical faux-pas and get my tin hat on. ;-)

Cheers, Alan.

March 4, 2011 12:05 pm

Hi Alan,

Very good points “the question of balance is intrinsicly tied into the ability to actually get into theatre and support troops once they are there. This is not necessarily about hi-tech fast and/or shooty things that cause huge explosions.

So question #3. How many personnel and how much materiel can the services move and how far? And, once there how much of the above can be realisticaly supported and supplied and for how long?”

– When USA was spending a much higher GNP share on defence, they were planning for 2 and a half wars, e.g. Europe, Korea and containment somewhere else that was strategically important to keep the main show on the road (that could have been the Middle East then)

– Now, when they are spending a higher proportion of the world’s combined (observable) defence expenditure, they have had to reduce to 1 and two halves… exactly for having thought long and hard about what you point to (as it is not all about manpower)

March 4, 2011 12:34 pm

Thanks ACC, two and a half wars; I take that to mean two high intensity conflicts á la Gulf War 1, or are we talking about full mobilisation all out war?

The “half wars” element; I take this to mean a limited intervention for humanitarian or other purposes, or a protracted COIN operation. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

There seems to be an alarming obsession with “big boys toys”;
Carriers (I’m not trying to reopen that can of worms!)
Fast Air (with a perceived RAF hegemony over all things in the sky)
Haavy/Medium Armour, Airbourne capability, underwater knife fighting etc. With out any apparent thought about how it’ll get in theatre. Or be supplied and serviced once it gets there.

I could of course be entirely mistaken, and there may be a grand strategy behind all of this.

Cheers, Alan.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
March 4, 2011 12:45 pm

@ Alan and ACC – very good points; I posted a link to a Aussie article about the logistic problems for expeditionary warfare in the open thread and my previous comments about the RN/RAF having a main role supporting a deployed army were aiming for the same point.

I think the strain, as well as split in focus, of invading and then occupying Iraq while still being involved in A-stan led to neither being fought as well as they could -A-stan became essentially a “holding” action, which did not turn out well, as we can see.

So; we need a combined expeditionary force balanced to do the job (singly or with partners)rather than vis a vie services.

And one major war/operation at a time. If need be make some difficult strategic decisions and withdraw forces from other areas.

March 4, 2011 1:18 pm


Strategic Raiding is a concept supported to varying degrees by myself, jed, jackstaff, jedi and a few others, and probably anyone else with a name starting with J.

In essence, it argues we should be able to kick the door in, anywhere in the world, against “peer” opposition, land armed forces, accomplish an objective and get out.
The size and duration of the deployed forces, along with the scope of the objective, are up for debate.

My thinking on the large end was land a (big (5,000), mixed(MBT’s, Warrior, Snatch)) Brigade by assault ship, sieze a port, two more follow in cargo ships, which could be sustained for 6 months, and with fleet fire support could hammer any conventional resistance flat.
On the small end, we could maintain a 5k mixed brigade for 3 years.

I think you’ve unconsciously walked onto the problem.
The “Support” the Army require in Afghanistan is different, in scale if nothing else, than the support they need in Shoeing Communists at the Fulda Gap.

You need to define a strategy, and then you can design an army, navy and airforce to do it.

Alan again
The US Wars were a Russian push in Western Europe and a Chinese push into the Pacific, through Japan, Korea, The Philipenes ect. Then another flare up somewhere that needed to be contained, if not activly waged war upon. Iran or Iraq looking west for new real estate is a fair example I think.

“There seems to be an alarming obsession with “big boys toys”;
With out any apparent thought about how it’ll get in theatre. Or be supplied and serviced once it gets there.”

I think thats a bit unfair. Fleet Carriers are relativly new, ordered after we last had a coherant strategy. The Vincies were just for protecting ASW frigates from any sneaky Russians.

Fast airs kind of important in conventional warfare.
Has the side with air superiority ever lost a conventional war?
Musch of our heavy armour was predeployed the Fulda where is was expect to fight, and since the Soviets gave up, we’ve just been coasting.

The exact same arguement can be leveled at COIN forces, theres no strategy behind what they’re going to do and how we’re going to measure there “victory”.

The UK needs a grand strategy, and we just dont have one.

March 4, 2011 1:50 pm

Hi DJ @ 1:18,

RE “against “peer” opposition”
– I hope peer in quotation marks means “armed with weapons of roughly the same generation as ours” (probably of a different make, though not guaranteed – cfr. the Tomcats of Iran did a good job against Iraq and are still flying; or the Exocets with the Argies)
– USMC did a peer on peer thought process: 2 brigades of ours landed, them (no names) 51 divisions, let me think about this… (the origins of AirSea Battle concept, which I am still trying to fully understand)

March 4, 2011 2:20 pm

OK, lets see if I’ve got my head together.

DominicJ; I fear I may not have structured my post properly the comment regarding getting things in theatre and servicing/supporting them was not directed towards the carriers specifically.
My concern is that they have won out over logistic support/transport shipping.

Now, I appreciate that there is always the option to requisition merchant cargo and passenger shipping for this purpose. However is this ideal? Would it not be better for the RN to have the capacity to mave a large (5K?) force by itself.

Before anyone jumps all over me, yes I know we have the RFA’s but likely not enough of them (I’ve not reread The Future RN posts recently, sorry.)

Likewise the RAF, does it have the capacity to move the above numbers for an expeditionary op? And if so at what “weight”?
Light role only, or with medium/heavy armour assets attached?

DomJ, I also appreciate that supporting COIN is different from supporting high intensity war (while I’m a civvy my father has done both of the above.) However thankyou for having the thought to point this out.

I think the main gist of all this is that; balance is a question of being able to do the job asked of you when you are asked. If a service does not want a particular tasking we must ask why, and what do we do to fill the gap.

I’ll sign off now and pick up later, my train of thought is starting to run out.
Cheers, Alan.

March 4, 2011 3:17 pm

“Peer” is really a meaningless word.

The UK and Argentina were not peers in 82, but we barely scraped a win, and could easily have lost.

The UK and France are peers, but with a modest amount of surprise, either could have occupied the others capital in in a day. Think about it, we could mass at Salisbury for “training”, head for the coast, cross and have half of Northern France under occupation before they even realised they were at war, let alone reorganised their forces.

The French could just load up a few mistrals and debark at the HoC, the only people capable of responding would be armed police.

“- USMC did a peer on peer thought process: 2 brigades of ours landed, them (no names) 51 divisions, let me think about this… (the origins of AirSea Battle concept, which I am still trying to fully understand)”

Lets pick on Brazil.
The Brazillian army is 250,000 strong, with a over million reserves and more main battle tanks than we have, probably 10 times as many as we could actualy deploy.

But we land anyway, and seize Rio.

I dont expect we’d be annihilated 6 hours later in a Kurskesque tank battle

Because the Brazillian army isnt sat in Rio waiting for us.
Even if we were already at War, it has a 4500 mile coastline, and we can land anywhere.
Equaly spaced, a platoon would have to man a mile.
At most, we’d be spread over 20 miles, We’d be landing Battalions each mile, its more likely we’d land over 5 miles.

They could of course, mass at strong points, but we can simply avoid those and land unopposed, creating our own little kingdom.
If they mass as three brigade formations, they would be every 270 miles. So two such forces could travel 135 miles and assault our 3 Brigades with 6. But those 135 miles, they are getting ahmmered by navial aviation and artilery, depending on how much damage they suffer, we might be beat both, we could probably beat them individualy with little loss. If they escape heavy damage on the march towards us, we simply retreat to the sea, continue pummeling them, and land somewhere else, to begin again.

Having “mass” isnt important, applying mass is.
Its very difficult to apply 51 divisons with good effect, unless you happen to be fighting over a vast land border.

Callum Lane
Callum Lane
March 4, 2011 5:57 pm

In order to get anywhere you need to:

1. Secure the sea lines of communication
2. Secure the air lines of communication
3. Establish air superiority as a minimum (air supremacy
4. Establish a Sea Point of Disembarcation (SPOD)
5. Establish an Air Point of Disembarcation (APOD)
6. Gain an airhead/bridgehead

The forces required to do this are dependent on the enemy and the geography. In terms of logistical lift that is just a factor of time and money, you only really need sufficient military capacity to accomplish points 4 and 5, then you can generally either trickle in (air) or use civil lift (air amd mil).

In order to accomplish anything at the far end you generally want to have a division to manoeuvre with initially. A division is what I would call the minimum tactical mass to operate with effectively. Brigades are just not big enough or robust enough, nor will they be under the multi-role brigade (MRB) structure that the army is moving to. The other advantage about basing on the div level is that many armies can operate at brigade level, but few at divisional level (they may be able to deploy several brigades in the field but they cannot operate them as a division) so by operating at divisional level you are exponentially increasing your chances of suceeding in the ground campaign.

We no longer possess a divisional manoeuvre capacity although we could resurrect it in the next 5-10 years.
In terms of lift capacity I would like to see sufficient mil lift capacity to move a MRB complete by sea in one lift (moving 3Cdo Bde is easy in comparison, they have no heavy armour) and to lift 16 AA Bde in at most two waves and then to sustain them in high intensity defensive ops for up to three weeks.

March 4, 2011 6:21 pm

Hi DJ,

At least you went for the sweet spot with Brazil; a tennis player?

March 4, 2011 6:34 pm

Hi DJ,

RE “I dont expect we’d be annihilated 6 hours later in a Kurskesque tank battle”
– they don’t have any MBTs as it is the only country in the world where the tank design is mandated by the max width that the railways can move
– but we’ll hold Rio, and let them get on with the boring bits

March 4, 2011 7:02 pm

To be honest I am beginning to think brigade sized ops are out of reach without the Yanks or a number of our European allies. We

3Cdo war maintenance reserve for 30days in the field is somewhere in the region of 15,000 tons. (Source Brassey’s Amphibious Ops.)

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
March 4, 2011 7:02 pm

@ Callum – excellent summing up. I don’t think we can deploy a division of our own anymore but perhaps we could enable others? For small to medium sized/risk operations, we can independently deploy a Brigade but anything larger/riskier we’re going down the coalition route, we being the enabler by providing the sea control/air superiority and a large share (lion?) of the transport?

March 4, 2011 7:38 pm

Hi Gareth,

I think we are being a bit blinkered here: “For small to medium sized/risk operations, we can independently deploy a Brigade but anything larger/riskier we’re going down the coalition route, we being the enabler by providing the sea control/air superiority and a large share (lion?) of the transport?
– for a small/ medium sized we provide
1. the spearhead force, or half of it
2. and, after the initial stage (my favourite phrase by now, the spear must follow the spear head; and… “we being the enabler by providing the sea control/air superiority and a large share (lion?) of the transport?”

On the scale up, next on the ladder, I don’t think we can do it,
-BUT, we can do two of these (as per my description, enable the first 30 days, draw down on your relative share, make sure that there are others)

So, rather than just thinking of the US (and “keep out of the way”), there can be other situations, where being at the ready (the boy scout) and having the means / enablers to help to ramp it up, is what will make the difference

Lord Jim
Lord Jim
March 4, 2011 8:29 pm

Future operational strengths on elective missions are likely to be lower than most are suggesting, with a Brigade able to deploy short term or medium at a real push with battalion level groups being the norm.

Obviously for non-elective missions like the defence of dependancies we will deploy whatever we can to ensure the job is done.

Unfortunately we are going to have to wait till 2020 and two elections to see what form the “New” balance armed force take, but when experts are saying defence spending needs to increase to between 3-4% of GDP after 2015 to meet the proposed reorganisation ans re-ncosts I can see the Army shrinking to fit the budget as a more probable solution.

Of course the balloon might go up between then and now and change everything.

March 4, 2011 8:38 pm

@ LJ

This balloon, what tranche is it?

March 4, 2011 8:40 pm

Hi LJ,

RE “Brigade [at the most] able to deploy short term or medium at a real push with battalion level groups being the norm
– all of this agreed, and then…

RE “Unfortunately we are going to have to wait till 2020 and two elections to see what form the “New” balance armed force take”
– nothing to see, will have changed so many times

Best: Pull in partners, make [treaty] commitments [ref: EU Battle Group rotation; small scale = two BG’s at the most, at the same time]
– but, this is exactly what you say, and I agree

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 4, 2011 11:10 pm

The bottom line is we have no “grand strategy”. We have no statesman looking after the next generation we just keep electing pr/media politicians yadda yadda yadda…
So we as a country have absolutely no consensus of what our future should be let alone any ability to invest in it, all we have is this or that wishy washy post modern nonsense.
Now from a security prospective we do have to invest, not just in a military/anti terrorist level but in a wider intellectual, cultural, economic and sustainable level.
So in this environment all the military can do is provide a tool kit for the intellectually bankrupt politicians we elect, so they can have foreign adventures disguised as global strategy.
Now we are very lucky in our scepter’d isle we have no existential threats. So we can all discuss this or that force structure, elite underwater knife fighter or unmanned deathray because our wars are our choice and they ain’t gonna happen in Rickmansworth.
But we if we do not have a “grand strategy” we do as a country need to understand what we can ask of the military. What we NEED to do for ourselves? What can we do by ourselves?
And what we should do in coalition?
Rant over…sorry drunk watching James Bond…

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 4, 2011 11:18 pm

Dear Admin
Could we please have a good news open thread? The past couple of years defence/military news has all been a bit a downer…
Thanks for the otherwise excellent website :-)

Willy Dribble
Willy Dribble
March 4, 2011 11:45 pm

I doubt there will be much posted…I suspect finding good news will harder than formulating our defence posture…