This short essay attempts to communicate a perceived change in our position within world affairs whilst we attempt to get our “house in order”. It also tries very hard not to become a “kit list”. It represents a view of the UK’s position within the world that may ultimately drive the 2015 SDSR.
Although the United Kingdom is getting forever smaller and more insignificant on the world stage the same could also be said for France, Spain, Italy and even the industrial powerhouse of Germany. However, together we represent an Un-united States of Europe.
We (including our neighbours) appear happy with this situation as we maintain an identity that we have fought to maintain for centuries. Our military capability however, must reflect an expectation to stand alongside our neighbours should it become necessary. We should also be in a position to defend against any bickering that may go on within Europe as we struggle to unite.
We are heavily reliant on trade for our survival. These trade routes and supply lines, in whichever form, need to be secured and need to be free from excess piracy, corruption and extortion.
Our Kingdom is no longer threatened by a Soviet nuclear war. It is threatened more by our financial position in the world and by those who wish to undermine our position by use of terrorism or cyber crime.
As the long and hard campaigns in Afghanistan have shown it is impossible to hold a nation responsible for harbouring criminals. The idea of deploying large-scale and sustained military force has been proven to be ineffective and would definitely be useless against a united team of cyber warriors spread around the globe.
On one hand it appears that we may have to redesign our strategy to be more of a peacekeeping and stabilisation role. Essentially this means a focus on “policing” rather than neutralising the threat with extreme force. It also means concentration on policing any threat to our trade routes and supply lines and undermining any piracy, corruption or extortion that they experience.
However, on the other hand, there is an old strategy for toppling large and complex organisations (terrorist networks and cyber warriors) called the “wasp effect”. It is akin to an ant causing a landslide or a wasp causing a pileup on a motorway. Some might call it guerrilla warfare or espionage.
So there exists a need to balance the peacekeeping/stabilisation and skirmishing/destabilisation activities. Whichever action we choose we must “be there” with our “ear to the ground”.
This means a focus on intelligence acquisition and putting in place the laws and governance that is required to avoid the wasp effect being used against the independent nations of Europe. It also requires presence both legal and covert with the ability to strike hard and fast when absolutely necessary.
With the exception of the forces needed to defend our soil this means a relatively small expeditionary military capability is required. We would however require the ability to relocate our defensive infrastructure to any “front line” of an invasion as we endeavor to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbours and allies.
This has the effect of suggesting that we should endeavour to enhance our strategic air and sealift capabilities, as these assets can be used to aid genuine humanitarian operations, which are required the world over.
It is acknowledged that the existing planned C-17, A-400M, Bay and Point fleets may be sufficient.
The author therefore advocates the following:
- Re-evaluation of the “nuclear threat” to our nation and review of our CASD and MPA requirements
- Reduction in our conventional expeditionary warfare capabilities and the associated assets required to sustain them
- Provision of a short-lived intervention force to operate at very short notice (e.g. carrier, amphib and 3Cdo)
- Provision of a deep penetration force to operate at very short notice (e.g. C-17 and 16AAB)
- Provision of a dedicated Humanitarian Task Force (e.g. Bay class with hangar, hospital and port-enhancement facilities)
- Provision of maritime strike capability for Typhoon and F35B
- Maintenance of a presence in the Middle East
- Maintenance of maritime security around the coast of Africa and our outlying islands
- Improved military and cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities
- Scaling of the HTF and strategic lift capabilities to move our entire defensive infrastructure over the course of a few months