Building the Perfect Yesterday

I have been reading an excellent book by the the US General Gordon R Sullivan called Hope is Not a Method in which he writes about change.

It is a fascinating look at how the US Army transformed in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War and I think it is a bit of a forgotten gem, plus you can get a second hand copy from Amazon for a couple of quid!

The five key challenges the US Army faced in the nineties were;

  • The environment was changing rapidly
  • Emerging technology posed new opportunities and difficulties
  • Technical skills and teamwork abilities of people had to be continually upgraded
  • Increasingly demanding stakeholders were assigning them new or unexpected tasks
  • Financial pressures forced massive cost cutting and downsizing

He came to the conclusion that the US Army must not only change, but change the way it changed.

Wonder how many parallels there are with today?

I suspect, the challenges are much the same and much different

Am not going to summarise the book but one part really struck me was about how one of the leadership traps that must be avoided at all costs was ‘Making Yesterday Perfect’ or the understandable comfort blanket of fighting the last war, but better.

SDR98 did not fall into this trap, it looked at a changing world and decided to do something different. Now we all know it was never funded correctly and kind of fell apart but since then, have we really had a defence and security review that recognised the changing world and the necessity of not meeting yesterdays challenges?

SDSR2015, I think we all agree, will not have many surprises and will be a steady as she goes exercise with a few shiny baubles to keep everyone happy but is this the right path.

The world is changing rapidly, is Future Force 2020 falling into the trap of making yesterday perfect?

Has the British armed forces change the way they change?

Aircraft carriers, tanks and fast jets, are they the answer to tomorrows defence and security challenges?



One last question, where are books like this from British senior officers?

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September 11, 2014 11:42 am

This year, we remember the outbreak of one of the deadliest conflicts of human history.
The United Kingdom walked in to that war with an army set up to act as a colonial police force.
Deficient in transport, artillery, machine guns, logistics, hell, anything that wasnt Rifleman Tommy Atkins

When creating a force to fight tomorrows war, we should be careful to avoid trying to win yesterdays war, but equally, we should be careful to avoid trying to win todays war too.

Tomorrows war may not tanks at Fulda, but its unlikely to be insurgents at Sangin either.

September 11, 2014 11:55 am

Sounds like an interesting book. Does he suggest a method for changing the way we change?

The basic structure of the Army in SDR98 is still existent in Army 2020 minus the failure of FRES (UV). 3 Heavy Armoured Brigades + 3 Medium/Light Brigades and a Air Assault Brigade.

The biggest weakness is that it cut Signals, Engineers and Artillery so that the aren’t in proportion with the size of the Infantry.

SDSR2015 probably won’t do anything special. I see it as mainly being SDSR2010 part 2 – the fixings of a few things from SDSR10 and hopefully laying out how we will respond in the long term to the security situation in the Middle East and further.

September 11, 2014 12:02 pm

I think there were a great deal of good opportunities missed, which had a great effect on the UK defence industry as well. A few factors were essentially a given:

– The perceived need to maintain large forces in Germany (not a bad thing, just a consideration)
– The perceived need for a ‘Peace Dividend’, regardless of reality.
– The perception that there had to be a revolutionary change in everything, not an evolutionary change. This meant that logical improvements were shunned in favour of longer-term magical transformation.

It is the latter,in my view, which did the most damage. As we have seen over the last decade plus in Iraq & Afghanistan, revolutionary change in equipment and tactics can often end up lagging behind evolutionary change. The Americans poured massive amounts of money into their Future Force Warrior and Land Warrior projects, but in practice, the need for immediate improvements dictated steady evolutionary change.

I would have gone a different route, with 1st Division staying in Germany, as the pool of ‘heavy’ assets, 3rd Mechanised with a mix, a bit of heavy and a bit of medium (with the Mech Infantry using Piranha vice Saxon/FV432), and the rest being a pool of light units. Rather than raising 16th Air Assault, I would have probably aimed to keep 5th Airborne and 24th Air Mobile units, alongside other light units.

Take for example the armoured vehicles situation, where there was a lot of scope for improvements:

– The best example being the Alvis Stormer, which would have given us a major improvement in capability, but at a reasonable price. It could have replaced the ageing CVR(T) fleet, pretty much off the shelf. FRES Scout sorted out twenty years early!

– The Warrior, with the unstabilised Rarden, which although more powerful than the Bushmaster 25mm, had a lot of issues. In 1993 Kuwait ordered the Desert Warrior, with the Delco turret, using the 25mm & TOW (which would have more than offset the degradation in calibre).

– The endless FRES utility project, where we could easily have just bought the Piranha III off the shelf, and though not perfect, as usual fell victim to the repulsion towards the 95% solution in search of perfection. As such, Saxon stuck around…

– Buy ground based TOW, we had them in service already on the Lynx, and it would have been a more genuine replacement for the Swingfire than Milan ever was! The TOW could easily have been added, and there were plenty of off the shelf turrets for it. Adopting the Delco turret would have meant the Stormer, Warrior and Piranha all having full ATGM capability.

On trucks, we let the UK companies go to the wall, when they had some really good designs, notably the Unipower and MultiDrive trucks. The Unipower could have fulfilled the requirement for tank transporter (which went to Oshkosh), heavy support trucks (went to MAN) etc… It could have been an excellent product with good overseas sale prospects, but the lack of support from the home country hurt it. Unlike the French, we never seemed to be as four-square behind our own defence industry, even if they occasionally go a bit nuts (the endless bail-outs of GIAT comes to mind)…

A sad story of missed opportunities!

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
September 11, 2014 12:24 pm

Interestingly, much of the sensible stuff in SDR98 had already been in gestation in the early 90s post OfC. Much of the force structure had already been proposed for what was at one time known as the Joint Rapid Deployment Force, with the “golf-bag” approach referred to throughout. Not that I encourage golf – on the contrary it is to be stamped out wherever possible.

The question of steady as she goes or more change is an interesting one. I’m not a particular fan of 5yr SDSR exercises, partly because of the huge amount of staff work that the process requires (whether it does actually need it or not). Technological developments are (generally) relatively slow compared to economic and political issues and so you can run the risk of imposing constant flux and churn on defence programmes – which adds its own form of inertia. As we’ve all worked out by now, inertia equals added cost and delay and is therefore a bad thing.

What is probably needed is a requirements function that is much less dependant on specific scenarios with highly detailed Orbats and timelines and based more on reasonably generic assumptions about threat and capability, provided you can actually base decisions on them. The detailed performance requirements for kit can then be developed within the “generic” bounds and are less susceptible to random change.

The SDSR process then becomes a review of underpinning assumptions every five years, with perhaps a more detailed one every ten years. The important thing is to separate detailed assumptions on system performance from more strategic assumptions on threat, objectives and force structures. However, you have to make sure that the assumptions are more rigorously checked and don’t become shibboleths, like “that nice Mr Putin will not act overtly against the inerests of the west” and “we’ll have X years I&W of an emergent threat from nation Y” or my favourite “someone else provide capability Z”.

One would hope that SDSR15 is hauling those lessons aboard now.

Rocket Banana
September 11, 2014 12:32 pm

I think the problem is that the SDSR comes out and everyone then knee-jerks to implement what it says.

There is another way which is that the SDSR is looked as a recommendation. A series of structures that should be aimed for. It’s likely we’d never get there and implement everything suggested, but then again, the next SDSR may well say that everything has changed back again.

If you want a mathematical analogy to what I’m suggested it’s exponential smoothing. It never quite gets there. It never quite tracks the signal. It lags but is continually “intended” to get there.

This then fits and helps with equipment procurement since much of the expensive stuff we buy lasts for 30 odd years. If the next SDSR says we don’t need carriers, tanks and jets then should we bin them all or just start to decrease numbers. If the SDSR after than says we need loads of carriers, tanks and jets then we respond by increasing numbers and starting the ball rolling.

NaB is probably right in that they are too frequent, but in actual fact the strategy and understanding of the World stage should probably be re-evaluated every year with a full SDSR done every 10 or so.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
September 11, 2014 1:43 pm

@TD: The problem with planning for fighting the wars of tomorrow is that, unless you have a working crystal ball or a big blue box with Police Telephone written on the side, you don’t know *what* those wars will entail.

Merely directing planners to “plan to fight the wars of tomorrow” is likely to induce panic.

I suppose one solution is to layout, generally what types of war can be fought (not “are likely” to be fought). These need to be made faily general and not geographically limited (i.e. Armoured Land War against a peer enemy, cyber warfare against UK infrastructure, peace keeping operation in an urban setting, an insurgent warfare in a semi-rural setting etc.). Then you can build a “fantasy force structure” and pit it against the generalised scenarios you’ve given.

If it does well you can tweak it by increasing the detail of the scenario (i.e. Armoured war in North Africa, peace keeping in a European city etc . . .). I’m sure all this has been tried, but the pitfalls are that you make your initial scenario’s too specific which overly specialises your force structure and hamstrings you when you are fighting a war outside of the narrow assumptions you made.

Right, now to sit back and wait to be told that I’m a know-nothing-barsteward, and “better people than me” have been doing just this thing, for years.

September 11, 2014 4:27 pm

There is something fundamentally difference about land forces vs air naval forces. You can expect a lot of things from watching other guys air and naval forces. Becuase the changes are as much depends on strategy as it depends on platforms. How are you going to change land force when it is very much depends on the human conflicts & differentiate between places to places. Case in point is the difference between US army vs Russian land forces.

Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
September 11, 2014 5:22 pm

“Fools say that they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by others experience.”
― Otto von Bismarck

September 11, 2014 5:24 pm

Now that sounds horribly familiar – 3rd loop learning some “experts” call it. Not just questioning the possible solutions but questioning the whole context that gives rise to those possible solutions.

What’s the best car to drive to the shops? Walking.

I think we over-egg change. We need to evolve certainly, and adapt – but “change” has become synonymous with those in in leadership roles having different opinions from predecessors. Change has become an industry when really what is often needed is a constant and steady drum beat of adaptation and evolution.

All five of the challenges posted are the same challenges almost every human organisation has had to react to over history and they are certainly the same challenges the forces see today.

Armed forces must respect the nature of war. Or they will never prevail. It can be dangerous to think too far outside of the box because you risk imposing change that denies the nature of combat and war.

September 11, 2014 5:37 pm

The worst missed opportunity, in my view, was the Warrior 2000, in conjunction with Stormer. The two vehicles had the same Delco 30mm turret which could be fitted for TOW.
Had the updated warrior been used for the Armoured infantry, the older chassis could have been recycled into turret less carrier vehicles to replace the FV430 vehicles in the armoured formations.
You’d still have needed something for the mech inf units, but it might have made that more feasible if it wasn’t trying to be everything all at once.
Still, that’s perfecting the past, which is what we shouldn’t be doing.

Looking forwards, I don’t think the super light, super technology vehicles are going to be feasible and that we would be much better off going for smaller increments more often. Every time we have a vehicle that becomes older than the majority of users, we should be thinking about replacing it or at least upgrading it rather than having to make great big jumps and ending up with vaulting ambition overleaping itself.

Right now the requirements for the replacement for Warrior and Challenger should be being drawn up. These are the vehicles that live in the direct fire zone.
We might also wish to consider a light family of vehicles, seeing as we don’t have anything like that save an eclectic mix of 4x4s

John Hartley
John Hartley
September 11, 2014 7:21 pm

Aircraft carriers, tanks & fast jets might be needed in the next war, or not. Trouble is that the enemy might not want to follow our new management wonder thinking. That a threat will come, is inevitable, but whether it is a peer country or a nutter with an AK, is nigh on impossible to predict.

September 11, 2014 8:09 pm

I think the issue of picking what type of force is flawed by always saying we’re not going to fight the last war. Yes, we may not fight exactly the same enemy or in exactly the same terrain, but we can generally make healthy assumptions:

– Heavy armoured forces will be needed, generally to fight at battlegroup or above, against an organised enemy, who may have equal or better firepower. For the ’90s force, this could easily have been met by Challenger 2, Warrior and Stormer.

– Medium forces will be most in need for enduring ops, they’ll need really good protection and high mobility. This would have been met pretty well by the Piranha III, without much need for modifications.

– Light forces will need a mix of lots of helicopters and light vehicles for initial entry, and then protected mobility for follow-on ops. For the Royal Marines, Viking fits the bill, and to be honest, it might have for the Airborne units too, for once they are no longer just deploying by air.

Overall, these sort of hindsight predictions are perfectly reasonable, and nothing that wasn’t common sense back then! If we’d gone for Warrior 2000, Piranha III and Stormer, we’d have spent money then, but to actually get a lot of good kit! If we’d gone into 2000 with that kit, then we could have saved fifteen years of endless FRES project iterations.

TD: I loved the MultiDrive article, and think that it was such a shame we just gave up on so many great projects. I think it’s such a shame promising projects just ended up shelved or ignored.

Sadly, the term defence review has effectively become a byword for cuts, dressed up in a promise of a ‘new’ strategic direction… I’d much rather have a mere statement of direction (e.g. we’d like to focus on a particular region this time round), and then have the forces able to use proper long term planning. No more ‘hmm, if we make massive cuts stuff now, they’ve told us we’ll get more later’, which I don’t think has ever worked!

September 11, 2014 8:55 pm

On this the Senior Service seems to have mostly got its goal sorted out as a possible peer peer conflict (however remote as RT points out) but ‘dumbing down’ is a lot easier than stepping up well out of your comfort and safety zone. Yes a CVF delivering regiments of troops to a war zone in which no threat to a Carrier Battle Group is apparent is overkill but another enemy could be a threat and needs a Nellie to provide safe deployment and prosecution in the theatre of operations far from local air support in all its guises , be it CAP to ISAR.
The new comers to the party (tongue in cheek , its almost a hundred years ) are little more at odds with peer to peer lacking very long range deep strike but other wise good to go in a shiny ‘newish frock’ in the awesome Typhoon air superiority fighter and the soon to be delivered LO platform of the F35 giving at least the short range stealth strike capability of the F117 and a lot lot more (for a lot lot more I might add) and we all know what havoc it has wrought in recent wars. It has ISAR and transport sorted at present with what needs fixing firmly grasped.
In the end they both are there to support to Army in times of greatest need but the UK Gov needs to decide what direction and what it will and will not allow what circumstances a pitifully small and under equipped force be put in harms way.
The operating environment for the Army is infinitely more complex than that of the Navy or Air force and that complexity need to be rationalized down to yes we can or no we cant.

September 12, 2014 3:20 am

@ TrT “This year, we remember the outbreak of one of the deadliest conflicts of human history.
The United Kingdom walked in to that war with an army set up to act as a colonial police force.
Deficient in transport, artillery, machine guns, logistics, hell, anything that wasn’t Rifleman Tommy Atkins”

Not true, the army in UK was organised to mobilise as an expeditionary force of a couple of corps. What it lacked, because UK did not have conscription unlike France & Germany, and therefore only a limited number of reservists, were the resources to expand beyond this. The organisation of the infantry division was very sound, including more and better artillery (almost all modern, < 10 years old) that a division in any other army. Corps troops were a bit sparse however.

September 12, 2014 11:14 am

As always, I have trouble with the concept of a ‘Medium’ weight category. Too heavy to take advantage of mobility benefits and too light to be protected.
If the Piranha III would have been sufficient, that drags the band down to less than 20t and only protected against rifle fire and fragments – vulnerable to heavy machine guns, cannon and RPGs. The Piranha III APC version seats 13 (11 dismounts and 2 crew, I think) which is overkill for the British army section by three seats and the accompanying mass could be better used for protection or removed entirely to improve the mobility. Any way you measure it, that vehicle is a light vehicle. Towards the heavy end of light, but definitely light.

September 12, 2014 11:35 am

I agree that protection-wise that would have been light. Despite the header for the thread we don’tneed to be discussing options thathave been bypassed by the next-gen?

As for the three surplus seats, put in the bergans in the back, a couple of one-off AT or anti-bunker weapons by the doors, so that you can grab them if any need is suspected… That would not be a worry?

September 12, 2014 12:31 pm

With regards to the FRES Wheeled version to my mind as there seems to be f**k all difference between them going for the originally selected Piranha V from the same supplier as the FRES Tracked would be logical. They know by now our requirements and specifications for all aspects of the detail fit out of an armoured box. Even in maintenance there would be some commonality in that the engine in the FRES Tracked is a MTU 8V 199 TE20 and in the Piranha V is a MTU 6V 199 TE20 plus many other components should be common.
Dig deep MoD and swallow your pride and just accept it was just financial pressure that led to the IP debacle dropping the Piranha originally and just buy the thing .
Sorry France but your BS with the Russian Mistrals to me puts VBCI out of the picture.
So what if they don’t buy any drones from us the overall logic of buying from the same manufacturer should reap its own rewards (pun intended).The Piranha family has had much more combat experience than the VBCI and GD say they have learnt from that experience and incorporated into their latest offering.
I am sure the UKVBCI could be made with a lot of commonality to the FRES Tracked too but at what cost both in time and money. Using the same manufacturer for both wheeled and tracked versions SHOULD simplify things :-)

September 12, 2014 1:03 pm

Indeed, I was intending to focus on the ‘medium’ requirement as it pertains to future requirements but got rather sidetracked.
Surplus space is always nice in an armoured vehicle but you still have to determine what is nice vs. what is necessary. A slack handful of shoulder launched rockets inside the crew compartment may be good but it will cost you a couple of tonnes, or potentially the ability to protect against a common threat – say a heavy machine gun. So which is better?
Everything is, or should be, in the trade space.

What is the requirement for the ‘mediums’? Looking at the Stryker brigades often cited as an example, it seems to be an operationally mobile infantry formation, with vehicles proof against small arms up to heavy machine gun – basically man-portable stuff and ordinary artillery.
It seems to me that if you optimise for the British section you can make that capability in the 10-20t range such that air transport becomes a possibility. Although it would only be in dribs and drabs, the ability to put a platoon of AFVs down on an airstrip seems useful. It also allows you to fit appliqué to become resistant to weapons of opportunity such as RPGs or advanced artillery without going so heavy.

At the same time, it would be useful to make the heavy end of the spectrum coherent (gun tanks and troop carriers in a similar class for mobility and protection) and lighter than the current heavyweights, albeit with the ability to load up on protection so some fairly adaptable running gear would be needed.

That way a tooled up light or a stripped-down heavy would be able to cover the role of the ‘medium’ without a whole new family.

From where we are now, I would suggest that the UV wheeled vehicle should be something designed to operate from low to high protection levels (and let the military use it in all versions depending on what is suitable). Ideally there should be scope to use the components to make a stripped down version (so perhaps a 6×6 rather than an 8×8) that could be used as a light tank. Rather than sticking a middling gun on top of a troop carrier and pretending that is a good idea.

A more regular drumbeat replacing vehicles would also be sensible, IMHO, as it removes the need to try big jumps and possibly also the risk to some extent as well.

September 12, 2014 2:47 pm

Mr. Fred, all of that amkes sense,but for the formation to be able to take full advantage of its mobility, some degree of self-sustaining mustbe included in the requirement
“What is the requirement for the ‘mediums’? Looking at the Stryker brigades often cited as an example, it seems to be an operationally mobile infantry formation, with vehicles proof against small arms up to heavy machine gun – basically man-portable stuff and ordinary artillery”
– say, three days with only fuel, ammo and water replenished?

Would love to know how full the French crammed their wagons in Mali, considering the distances, heat and tge overall duration. I seem to remember a comment that bns were withdrawn from line after about 4 days? “The line” being a figure of speech.

September 12, 2014 3:12 pm

There’s a good point about how you handle the logistics.
Personally I would suggest two to three days’ worth of supplies and a logistics element running around behind. If you want to go for longer durations with only organic supply, it would make sense (to me) to run short manned and use the space thus freed up for additional supplies, possibly having more vehicles to spread the men out over.
Designing spare space in at the outset for just-in-case situations means that most of the time you are lugging around needless mass, especially if there are other ways of achieving the same outcome.

It would also make sense (to me) to have logistics vehicles based on the same chassis.

September 12, 2014 4:05 pm

Or make the logistics tail faster than the main force?×1050
… Just to lighten up, before signing off (COB Friday)

September 12, 2014 9:25 pm

mr.fred, ACC – seems like you’ve just described my fine family of vehicles (or at least some of them) – have you been peeking?

September 13, 2014 3:52 am

Chris, sent sime Spyware and you allowed the use of camera and location in the T&C’s to be ticked.

Then drip fed all your photos and technical drawings out, during spouts of activity masked as automatic updates. Even if I did not want to build your designs, or copy new characteristics into upgrades and updates, as a competitor I could arrange all your photos according to the metadata on them: date and location coordinates.

Why do you think I am up in the middle of the nigbt – automatic update time!
– just joking of course

September 13, 2014 7:04 am

ACC – call me paranoid if you like, but all the design work remains on a PC that is never connected to the web…

September 13, 2014 7:16 am

: please tell me it’s backed up, preferably to both DVD and a portable hard drive?

The Other Chris
September 13, 2014 7:40 am

With a copy stored off-site?

September 13, 2014 9:54 am

wf, TOC – backed up to a desktop RAID and to USB sticks and to portable drive but no offsite storage – unless you count the USB sticks being taken wherever I go. All data also encrypted. Obviously. Desktop RAID has been so far a good investment – one drive failed, replaced the drive with a similar one and switched back on and it spent a few hours refilling the new disk from the survivor without any input or configuration demands. A bit of technology that actually did what it promised, without a raft of pointless gimickry added in to impress the gullible.

September 14, 2014 9:42 pm


As the saying goes, great minds think alike while fools seldom differ. I don’t need to peek as it’s a pretty broad set of requirements and fairly easy to come to a common conclusion.

It helps that you’ve made a good justification for some of the features here previously.

September 15, 2014 6:50 am

Just a brief word about the Infantry and the ‘golf bag,’ concept (as mentioned by; ‘Not a Boffin’).

The appended URL shows a Bear that is clearly interested in, or needing, a ‘golf bag.’

I think the Bear knows………. it’s the way of the future; flexibility, efficiency and agility…….and it’s obviously the ‘way-to-go.’

September 15, 2014 3:54 pm

Pirahan 111 with 11 dismounts might actually have space for an 8 man section and kit designers are fairly notorious for claiming an afv can carry a full section as long as they are thin and dont want to carry any kit at all.