SDSR 15 – Following Boldly On


One of the hallmarks of a good officer is the ability to plagiarise with confidence.

To that end as we all eagerly honehone our 300 word SDSR 15 submissions I thought it would be worthwhile to look at similar exercises that were published this year by both China and the USA. The aim in doing so is to highlight how others see the operational environment, the ways by which they intend to operate in it and the means they intend to employ. Every county’s strategic perspective is unique, but understanding how other countries view their strategic environment and what their strategic aims are should help us in our strategic formulation.


The US published its National Military Strategy (the United States Military’s contribution to national security) in July 2015.

Operating Environment.

“Complexity and rapid change characterize today’s strategic environment, driven by globalization, the diffusion of technology, and demographic shifts.”

“When applied to military systems, this diffusion of technology is challenging competitive advantages long held by the United States such as early warning and precision strike.”

“Emerging technologies are impacting the calculus of deterrence and conflict management by increasing uncertainty and compressing decision space.”

“Youth populations are rapidly growing in Africa and the Middle East, regions that face resource shortages, struggling economies, and deep social fissures. Meanwhile, populations in Europe and across northern Asia are set to decline and get older. Around the world, millions of people are flowing from the countryside into cities in search of work where they are exposed to cultural differences, alienation, and disease.”

Mission and Tasks.

“This National Military Strategy describes how we will employ our military forces to protect and advance our national interests.” “Success will increasingly depend on how well our military instrument can support the other instruments of power and enable our network of allies and partners.”

National Military Objectives

  • Deter, deny, and defeat state adversaries.
  • Disrupt, degrade, and defeat violent extremist organizations.
  • Strengthen our global network of allies and partners.”

Joint Force Prioritized Missions

  • Maintain a secure and effective nuclear deterrent
  • Provide for military defense of the homeland
  • Defeat an adversary
  • Provide a global, stabilizing presence
  • Combat terrorism
  • Counter weapons of mass destruction
  • Deny an adversary’s objectives
  • Respond to crisis and conduct limited contingency operations
  • Conduct military engagement and security cooperation
  • Conduct stability and counterinsurgency operations
  • Provide support to civil authorities
  • Conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster response.”

Force Development.

“In view of the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) challenges we increasingly face, our future force will have to operate in contested environments. Key to assuring such access will be deploying secure, interoperable systems between Services, allies, interagency, and commercial partners. Priority efforts in that regard are establishing a Joint Information Environment (JIE), advancing globally integrated logistics, and building an integrated Joint ISR Enterprise.”

“Future capabilities must sustain our ability to defend the homeland and project military power globally. Important investments to counter A2/AD, space, cyber, and hybrid threats include: space and terrestrial-based indications and warning systems, integrated and resilient ISR platforms, strategic lift, long-range precision strike weapons, missile defense technologies, undersea systems, remotely operated vehicles and technologies, special operations forces, and the Cyber Mission Force, among others.”

Key Takeaways.

The consensus on the US National Military Strategy is that it was very good at describing the environment it anticipated operating in, but very light on the detail of describing how it would achieve anything in such an environment. This may have been a result of funding issues (sequestration) and having unknown (not just limited) resources to match against global demands. The document does give some indicators as to US thinking which will impact on UK defence planning:

  • As US military preponderance diminishes allies will become more important.
  • Forward basing of forces for deterrence and rapid-reaction will become more significant (we are already seeing this in Europe).
  • The US sees the threat of inter-state war as growing.


China published its “Chinese Military Strategy” in May 2015.

Operating Environment.

“In today’s world, the global trends toward multi-polarity and economic globalization are intensifying, and an information society is rapidly coming into being.”

“Profound changes are taking place in the international situation, as manifested in the historic changes in the balance of power, global governance structure, Asia-Pacific geostrategic landscape, and international competition in the economic, scientific and technological, and military fields. The forces for world peace are on the rise, so are the factors against war. In the foreseeable future, a world war is unlikely, and the international situation is expected to remain generally peaceful. There are, however, new threats from hegemonism, power politics and neo-interventionism. International competition for the redistribution of power, rights and interests is tending to intensify. Terrorist activities are growing increasingly worrisome. Hotspot issues, such as ethnic, religious, border and territorial disputes, are complex and volatile. Small-scale wars, conflicts and crises are recurrent in some regions. Therefore, the world still faces both immediate and potential threats of local wars.”

Mission and Tasks.

“China’s national strategic goal is to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2021”

“China’s armed forces take their dream of making the military strong as part of the Chinese Dream. Without a strong military, a country can be neither safe nor strong.”

“China’s armed forces mainly shoulder the following strategic tasks:

  • To deal with a wide range of emergencies and military threats, and effectively safeguard the sovereignty and security of China’s territorial land, air and sea;
  • To resolutely safeguard the unification of the motherland;
  • To safeguard China’s security and interests in new domains;
  • To safeguard the security of China’s overseas interests;
  • To maintain strategic deterrence and carry out nuclear counterattack;
  • To participate in regional and international security cooperation and maintain regional and world peace;
  • To strengthen efforts in operations against infiltration, separatism and terrorism so as to maintain China’s political security and social stability; and
  • To perform such tasks as emergency rescue and disaster relief, rights and interests protection, guard duties, and support for national economic and social development.”

Force Development.

“The seas and oceans bear on the enduring peace, lasting stability and sustainable development of China. The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.”

“China will keep abreast of the dynamics of outer space, deal with security threats and challenges in that domain, and secure its space assets to serve its national economic and social development, and maintain outer space security.”

“As cyberspace weighs more in military security, China will expedite the development of a cyber force, and enhance its capabilities of cyberspace situation awareness, cyber defense, support for the country’s endeavors in cyberspace and participation in international cyber cooperation.”

“The nuclear force is a strategic cornerstone for safeguarding national sovereignty and security.” “China will optimize its nuclear force structure, improve strategic early warning, command and control, missile penetration, rapid reaction, and survivability and protection, and deter other countries from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against China.”

Key Takeaways.

The “Chinese Military Strategy” was a much better, more concrete policy document. It presented a clear strategic vision of China in the world and linked threats to security policy and resource implications. China has defined security in broad terms to cover 11 fields (political, territorial, economic, military, nuclear, social, cultural, science/technology, information, ecological, and financial). By defining security broadly China has allowed itself to apply the organs of security in any of these areas if needed. From a UK defence planning perspective it is worth noting that China is set on developing its regional hegemony status and that it is focusing its military capability development in cyberspace, outer space, nuclear forces and the maritime environment. From a UK perspective the fact that China sees itself as a nascent naval power should be giving cause for thought.


In considering the UK’s defence concept I found that the conceptual framework enunciated by Israeli Major General Sakal in his book “Soldier in the Sinai” a good framework to follow:

  • What are the domestic political considerations? What is the balance of power domestically? How much freedom does that give the government? How radical are opposing political visions? (We have gone from a bi-polar UK political system to a multipolar system, how will that impact on our willingness and ability to act on the world stage?)
  • What is the sociological basis of the society, its demographics and wealth? (We have an ageing society whose ethnic composition has undergone rapid and significant changes; this poses challenges for society, government and the military).
  • What is and what should be the Force composition be? The balance between Regular and Reserve components as well as between the different Services.
  • Past experience: experience accumulated in past wars and the political, military, technological, economic and social lessons learned. (For better or for worse SDSR 15 will be heavily influenced by the experience (political and military) of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns).
  • Economic considerations: the state’s ability to both afford conflict and to supply the weapons required to wage one. (What kind of war can we afford to fight? What kind of losses can we afford to sustain?)
  • Geographic considerations – what is the geo-political situation of the state. (We are a maritime state, but are we in Europe or out? What and where are our core interests and red lines?).

In considering the SDSR 15 operating environment I would highlight three points:

  • The character of conflict reflects the character of politics. At the micro and macro levels we are witnessing a fragmentation of the old order. Politics (and with it conflict) is changing. At the micro level this may well limit the UK’s ability to act, while conversely at the macro level increasing the requirement to act. The basis of the social contract in many societies (including the UK) is also changing, if not fraying. State on state war remains a distinct likelihood and the most dangerous form of conflict, but war among the people will be endemic and enduring.
  • Technological profusion means that the West will continue to lose its relative technological advantage.
  • The fundamentals of geo-political competition will not change.

Both China and the US clearly see a world where complexity and competition are increasing and the velocity of instability, enabled by changes in communication and by technological diffusion are increasing. In developing a coherent defence strategy we need to understand both what the threats are, but also what role we wish to play in the world.

China has a clear vision, the US maintains its lofty aspiration and the UK…?


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