To talk or not to talk

I have tremendous sympathy for the First Sea Lord, Admiral Mark Stanhope.

When it comes to stating the obvious there can be few clearer examples as (paraphrasing)

If we had Harrier it would be supporting Operation Ellamy

Yep, that’s pretty open, honest and factual. Harriers would have supplemented the Typhoon and Tornado force, bringing to bear the unique ability to operate with reduced response times to fleeting targets of opportunity. That is not to say it could or would have replaced Tornado or Typhoon but it would have no doubt played a serious part. Would the operation be any materially different, would a small flight of Harriers actually make any great difference to the outcomes on the ground, I have to say probably not. The problems at a strategic or even operational level would not likely all of a sudden been resolved by the appearance of a handful of GR9’s but the simple and unavoidable fact remains, it would have been an improvement on what is there now and who knows what actual impact it would have had.

If I or anyone else had a choice between land and sea based air power, operating in harmony or land based air power only, then the simple answer is both please. When I looked at the history of naval aviation in a recent rather long post it was obvious to me that in some circumstances only land based is appropriate, in other circumstances only sea based is appropriate but in most circumstances, the combination of the two is always preferable.

The second point was that to sustain the naval operation post 6 months

Beyond that, we might have to request the Government to make some challenging decisions about priorities

Again, what is there to argue with?

The Royal Navy has a range of commitments, be that exercises, supporting standing tasks, planned visits and supporting multi-national task forces, for example against piracy in the Indian Ocean. Not all of these might be considered high priority; some can sensibly be moved up and down the list in order to support operations off Libya.

These comments were taken out of context and all of a sudden in the media the Royal Navy is at breaking point. Of course politicians, ever on the lookout for a point to make, jumped on this and started demanding a review of the SDSR.

He also said that there would be no going back on the cuts and we must look forward which again, I thought was blatantly obvious and entirely reasonable.

When faced with such a situation the decision to speak out has to be balanced, on one hand, if he keeps quite and rolls over, he will be accused of being an over politicised Coalition stooge who cares more about his pension and seat in the Lords than he does about his service and those in it, on the other, if he ‘does a Dannat’ and speaks out about what is obviously pretty factual and glaringly obvious stuff, he is immediately slapped down by those that should be listening and accused of not knowing his place, after all, in a democracy it is the politicians that make policy and service personnel, from top to bottom, just get on with it.

The way in which the Admiral was publicly humiliated by David Cameron, no matter what the rights and wrongs of what he said, was it technically correct or should he be giving succour to the enemy by telling the world that the cupboard is bare etc, displays a lack of respect not only for the man, but his rank and the position he holds.

Perhaps we can excuse it by saying David Cameron doesn’t understand the military but for all his fine words, most in the military understand a bullshitter when they hear one and so far all the rhetoric about respecting the armed forces has met with entirely the opposite.

The First Sea Lord and the armed forces in general, deserve better.

 

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Fluffy Thoughts
Fluffy Thoughts
June 16, 2011 7:55 pm

We’re skint. Our government is an alliance. We will sell-off the feckless banks.

Three per-cent [GDP] will be nice but won’t happen: Free beer also! Maybe TD should pump a question to WedEd next Wednesday…?

Paul R
Paul R
June 16, 2011 8:19 pm

I sorry for Stanhope, he said Harriers would be nice, but we’ve not got them so the navy. end of.
But he also stating that if the operation goes on longer, then the navy will have to reorganize all its commitments and jiggle about what ship does what.

Haven’t the navy in the past simply swapped crews over on a ship? Would such a thing be feasible of the cost of Libya where they is the odd bit of shore fire, but mostly protect supplies and stop any mine laying from small ships.

CivvieMatt
CivvieMatt
June 16, 2011 8:50 pm

I tend to agree with the sentiment of the article. Moreover, the specifics of what CNS said are entirely in line with SDSR. Under the Defence Planning Assumptions it states that the UK will be able to conduct:

•an enduring stabilisation operation at around brigade level (up to 6,500 personnel) with maritime and air support as required, while also conducting:

•one non-enduring complex intervention (up to 2,000 personnel), and

•one non-enduring simple intervention (up to 1,000 personnel);

or alternatively:

• three non-enduring operations if we were not already engaged in an enduring operation;

or:

• for a limited time, and with sufficient warning, committing all our effort to a one-off intervention of up to three brigades, with maritime and air support (around 30,000, two-thirds of the force deployed to Iraq in 2003).

Non-enduring is lasting less than six months. So CNS was stating the obvious: we can do Libya for a while longer, but after that we will be operating outside the DPAs, and therefore the Government will have to make decisions on priorities (especially as Afghanistan remains Main Effort).

So not only is the PM acting in a petty manner, but he appears ignorant of the assumptions the NSC (and he) signed up to in SDSR.

Jennings
Jennings
June 16, 2011 9:01 pm

Danegeld Dave does not give a tinkers cuss about Defence and least of all the RN. Suggesting an uplift after the next election…. purlease. Not interested in force development, just development aid.

Its all bollocks.

When its gone, its long gone big Daddy.

repulse
June 16, 2011 9:35 pm

Shame on you Dave. I think the 1SL should go tell him to shove it. I hated Tony Blair because he was all talk, Dave is the same; when are we going to get decent politicians…

Alan
Alan
June 16, 2011 11:12 pm

Repulse, that has been shown (in many cases) to be an oxymoron.

Bob
Bob
June 17, 2011 12:20 am

TD, thanks for this post, because to be honest I have been sitting here fuming at the treatment of 1SL, I know I posted the Guardian’s blog report before, but it bears repeating (http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/defence-and-security-blog/2011/jun/14/navy-and-libya-and-defence-and-cuts) as it only serves to support your position, 1SL spoke the truth and was damned for it.

I am pro-Navy and a maritime strategy, but to be honest that means nothing in this country now because we have no strategic vision or conceptual understanding of ends, ways and means. Unless and until that situation changes then I am afraid the schism between what Defence is resourced to do and what it is asked to do will remain. That is all that the First Sea Lord was articulating.

Junior
Junior
June 17, 2011 1:27 am

No point crying over split milk. Harriers are gone. I think more nations should particapte in the naval activities. Britain and france are providing most of the naval power. Call on more nations to get more of their naval forces involved.

Chris in Virginia
Chris in Virginia
June 17, 2011 2:22 am

Seen the reports that we are getting your Harriers for ten cents on the dollar…your politicians are ignorant fools!

I got an idea… base them in Israel, and claim you are going to guard Gaza with them.. they’ll write them into the $3 billion in cheese we give in ‘Foreign Aid’ to Israel annually… which is how they will ‘afford’ the F-35 btw…

Personally, I think it would be nice if Israel actually used their own money to purchase our hardware… They use the $3 billion they would otherwise use for defense to extend their socialist programs (ala Old Europe/NATO) in Israel.

We borrow the $$ from whoever will lend it, then pay interest on the Fiat $$… We are the fools Fat Man referred too :-(

repulse
June 17, 2011 7:46 am

Alan, sadly you are probably right. Perhaps just a politician who has a backbone then; whoops there I go again.

Alan
Alan
June 17, 2011 8:50 am

Repulse, now there has been a few of them.
Maybe too few in recent years.

RichardW
RichardW
June 17, 2011 12:44 pm

There is a point in the war of words between the Service chiefs and the Government that is pivotal but neither side want to analyse it in public because it embarrasses both sides for different reasons. It’s easier for one side to accuse and the other just to deny, and both hope the public remain in ignorance.

The Service Chiefs say the Government has decimated the military so everything is the Governments fault and are happy to let the impression be that the Government has taken away loads of defence cash.

In terms of cash the reduction isn’t that great. It becomes a problem because it coincides with an overheated procurement programme. Obviously the MoD always has ongoing procurement requirements of one sort or another, but it has been saddled with more than you would want to have on the same day, currently: Astute, T45, Two aircraft carriers, air tanker and Typhoon. Add to these just around the corner: AM400, F35, and Trident replacement. And waiting in the wings for their turn is FRES and T26.

The Government could in their defence say that the Services Chiefs were negligent in creating such expenses all of which were committed to before this Government came into power, which would take the holier than thou shine off the Admirals. But to say that the expenditure was of such a magnitude would be to admit that the SDSR was a dressed up desperate funding exercise that resulted in deeper cuts to existing capabilities than the Government wants to admit to.

I suspect that both sides have got to the point where they hate each other because they both believe the other is at fault. If anything productive is going to be achieved in public, towards bettering the capability of the services, the Government has to be able to be transparent and open about its plans without being castigated. For that to happen the Admirals and Air Marshalls are first going to have to ‘fess up to their part in creating the problem.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
June 17, 2011 4:29 pm

@Jennings: I nearly spat my tea out when you said “Danegeld Dave”. Misread it as my own “pseud”.

I’d like to officially distance myself from “call me Dave” Cameron. I’m not him, never have been him and definitely don’t want to be him in the future! :-D

repulse
June 17, 2011 6:31 pm

I’m sorry, but I believe the buck should stop at the top, the PM. It was Tony’s / Gordon’s responsibility to rein in spending plans not the service chiefs. The reason why they didn’t was that they were either too in love with their international status or were plainly just trying to get jobs (read votes) for labour supporters using the national credit card.

Dave has gone on another spending spree with aid to countries that do not really need it (e.g India) again to flatter his image internationally. He does this, whilst cutting money to the services which he is asking more from and putting increasingly in harms way. He should have a backbone and recognize / admit to the consequences of his actions.

RichardW
RichardW
June 18, 2011 2:48 am

“I believe the buck should stop at the top, the PM. It was Tony’s / Gordon’s responsibility to rein in spending plans not the service chiefs.”

So if it was Tony and Gordons job to rein it in, why so hard on Dave when he does what they didn’t? Sure, Dave doesn’t know his periscope from a Harrier jet and that’s a different problem, but he wasn’t wrong in noticing the MoD had run up more bills that it had money to pay them.

And I disagree about the service chiefs. It can’t be said they have no responsibility for the expenditure of their own organizations. That’s what they are there for.

repulse
June 18, 2011 8:25 am

I’m hard on Dave not because he is cutting the MOD cloth to match the budget, which I do agree with. I do not agree with spending money on aid in countries that are developing the weapons we are having to cut because of a lack of funds. Also, the way the government have made significant decisions on capability cuts / gaps and then slaps down anyone who dares to suggest that we cannot do things the way we used to be able to do them.

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 18, 2011 3:26 pm

While DC had to intervene -I believe- in the Harrier/Tornado decision, that decision would have made on the back of information provided by the service chiefs. If there were a better argument for Harrier and carrier, then it was a failure on the part of the military to not make that argument, rather than lying entirely with the politicians.
It might well be a matter of fact that if we still had Harrier, we’d be using it – but I can understand the governments’s frustration in these issues being repeatedly highlighted.

RichardW
RichardW
June 19, 2011 4:03 am

I agree with your point on aid to countries that don’t merit it.

repulse
June 19, 2011 7:37 am

The Harrier is now a dead argument, I agree. But, we should be doing more to minimise the duration and length of the gap. Flying UAVs from illustrious is one way to minimise the operational / skills impact, potentially leasing a small number of jets to fly from French / US carriers is another (though realise the difficulties of doing this) or even turning over a squadron of Typhoons to the FAA (upgrade with Harpoon and use them as a maritime strike force). Increasing the carrier construction speed is also an option, even if to begin with they only fly French / US jets; would probably reduce the total cost of the project in any case.

Jan Guest
Jan Guest
June 19, 2011 5:41 pm

Fine cut defence along with everything else. But when Libya came along he should have put his hands up and said ‘sorry we cant afford it on top of Afghanistan – someone else will have to shoulder the load’ – that would be giving it to people straight. We can never have a sensible argument about defence spending if politicians refuse to cut their cloth because the people will go on believing that cuts aren’t serious and haven’t done any lasting harm until something disastrous happens and a large number of young men lose their lives.

Junior
Junior
June 20, 2011 1:10 pm

Perhaps, the carrier construction should be speed up, in times of war, delay would not have happened. However, it may cost more for us, to do so.

However, there would be no point, since the F35 is quite a few years away. I doubt that Typhoons would be navalised, it would cost quite a bit to HMG. I honestly doubt that we would do this, now. UAVs are a good idea, however, they lack the maneuverability of jet fighters. However, in the case of libya, they would be a nice resource, since there are just air strikes, on the region.

Mike
Mike
June 21, 2011 9:16 am

Seems the first sea lord is not the only one speaking out, RAF chief Sir Simon Bryant has joined in…perhaps the sea lord has given others the courage to speak out more to the public, I hope so.

MattJM
MattJM
June 21, 2011 12:20 pm

Mike, I noticed this on the BBC today too, and immediately thought of of this post! I’m glad to hear Sir Simon saying these things, though I am very curious to see how DC handles this! Will he slap him down as he did 1SL? If not, surely its an affront to Stanhope, or its an admission that he was wrong, surely neither of which he needs! If he does react the same way, then DC will find more of the defence community turning against him!!

MattJM
MattJM
June 21, 2011 12:27 pm

BBC website 10:29 – RAF stretched by Libya, says second-in-command
BBC website 12:19 – PM attacks RAF warning over Libya

Ok, so DC decided to ignore more warnings from his experts. Interesting call Dave….

Mark
Mark
June 21, 2011 1:05 pm

As pm has rejected there council and in a very strong manner they should resign and state the reasons for doing so and see who will take there place

Junior
Junior
June 21, 2011 1:16 pm

It seems to me, that the French and the other allies can do it on their own. Perhaps if we withdraw, more of NATO may participate and provide a lot more sorties. I think its time for us to just back out of this and try to stop being so big.

The French are providing a lot more sorties than us. Why is the PM trying to act like Britain can do this? He should as, a good PM should, listen to his military commanders. If the chiefs, resigned, it may create a problem for the PM, most likely they’ll be replaced by a selection of the Prime Minister’s own personal ‘lackeys’ that will tell him everything is fine and dandy.

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 21, 2011 2:35 pm

Hi, Junior
“It seems to me, that the French and the other allies can do it on their own. Perhaps if we withdraw, more of NATO may participate and provide a lot more sorties.”

DC was one of the main people demanding action and pushing this operation forward. If the UK ditches this mission now, then their will not be any countries queuing up to take our place.

If either the UK or France pulls out, then it’s game over. Only the US could continue the operation, and their reluctance to lead has been obvious.

Alan
Alan
June 21, 2011 4:07 pm

Regarding Repulse’s comment re:carrier launched UAVs; how much work would it take to set this up, and how difficult would it be using our existing unmanned assets?

Desk Jockey
Desk Jockey
June 21, 2011 4:25 pm

@Alan – I can answer that question. A lot of work as the UK does not have any carrier based UAV research projects at any level of maturity yet. The Americans have several, but I would not expect to see capable systems out for a few years yet.

As for using existing assets, the UK uses Reaper and Hermes 450 with Watchkeeper on its way. None of these can be used on carriers and to be frank, I doubt they can ever be designed to either. Something completely different is required. As the UK is not going to have carriers for a long while and land launched UAV operations is still pretty much in its infancy, it makes sense to get this area right first, especially the autonomous control systems. There is a lot UAVs cannot do yet and operating off a carrier is hard enough for human pilots with years of training, not to mention the engineering involved. The story may be different in about 2020.

Mike
Mike
June 21, 2011 5:29 pm

MattJM,

Interesting move DC made.
Means he’s publically annoyed and ignored RN and Air Force, I doubt he’d dare do the same to an Army chief saying the same thing… but hopefully two senior officers voicing the concerns of the rank and file should get to the wider public, It’d be interesting who’s next to voice concerns.

At least the 1stSL knows DC hasn’t got a personal grudge against him!

Alan
Alan
June 22, 2011 7:45 am

Thanks for that Desk Jockey, that suggests to me that that the MOD and Defence industry need to pull their finger out.