Not with a bang


This article has been doing the rounds over the last few days and in the run up to SDSR 2015 was seen by many as a timely reminder of just how weak the UK has become.

This article was written by a serving military officer from a NATO member state. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect the position of any organisation or government.

Britain is not under attack, but its place in the world is under fire. The semi-official Chinese Global Times has denigrated the United Kingdom as ‘an old declining empire’ which engages in ‘eccentric acts it takes to hide [its] embarrassment’. The Russians are brazenly flying bombers close enough to its airspace that the Royal Air Force has to scramble fighter aircraft to deal with them once a month, prompting the Scottish National Party to claim that the North Sea is now defended by ‘fishing vessels and social media’. British commentators are accusing their own government of behaving ‘like Belgium’. Even its cherished Special Relationship with the United States appears fragile, as it turns out that America’s heir apparent, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was chuckling at ‘decline and fall of the British Empire’ jokes as recently as 2009. Fareed Zakaria has summed up the current consensus in Washington: ‘After an extraordinary 300-year run, Britain has essentially resigned as a global power’.

Starting with a strong statement to get attention is fair enough but when I read it I knew that, whatever the provenance of its author (who could by the definition, be British), was going to be infuriating.

Russians are brazenly flying bombers close enough that the RAF has to scramble fighter aircraft to deal with them once a month are they?

This kind of point is fairly easy to fact check, it is fairly easy to look at the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) numbers published by the MoD and bash them into a spreadsheet.

QRA Launches Graph 1

QRA Launches Graph 2

Now I am no statistician, but brazen, once per month, not since 2007. 2015 figures aren’t available, but I am guessing they won’t be significantly different, despite the flurry of headlines and Russian bluff and bluster.

If you can’t be arsed to fact check the opening paragraph of your article why should the rest be given any credence?

The North Sea, defended by fishing vessels and social media?

Anyone with even the most basic understanding of British politics would understand why the Scottish National Party made that claim, that it was from a newspaper report about the UK using social media and reports from fishing vessels to gain intelligence about Russian Navy movements. Fleet Ready Escort, SSN’s, the whole tapestry of offshore assets, aircraft and duty towed array frigate notwithstanding, what is wrong with exploiting social media and friendly vessels for intelligence purposes. Even the USA use it, a recent story in Yemen highlighted that in a region with probably the most dense ISR coverage on the planet, the first the US knew of a Scud missile launch from the Yemen into Saudi Arabia was from Twitter.

The Belgium comment has been done by a few people, I even wrote about it in 2010 after Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell publicly deployed the ‘Belgium Bomb’, even though he was careful in his words.

I know British politicians like to obsess about our place in the world, but the reality is we are a regional power with global reach and influence across many domains. As I wrote at the beginning of the year, SDSR 2015 – Britain’s Plans in the World, anyone who thinks Britain isn’t great it either uneducated, or French!

The review is now being conducted by a small team in the Cabinet Office, and will be published in the fall.

So our mystery author is an American!

On its face, ensuring that Britain remains a global power should not be a challenging task. Despite narrowly avoiding dismemberment in September, when 45% of Scots voted to leave the United Kingdom, and an impending referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union, the quantitative foundations of British power are solid. The UK has the fifth-largest economy in the world and remains one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Militarily, it appoints NATO’s second-in-command and has the world’s fifth-largest defence budget, nearly £40 billion in 2014. The British people, in the words of pollster YouGov, remain ‘instinctively internationalist’ and although most of them want severe reductions in Britain’s bloated foreign aid budget, they also support high military spending and continuing global engagement.

So, why is there so much cynicism about the future of British power? Part of the problem is hopefully fleeting: the British government today has proved politically impotent, and has sat out negotiations over Ukraine and played a diminished role in the EU as the referendum looms. The far larger issue, however, is the one which this SDSR is seeking to address: Britain’s status as a global military power, which is part of the bedrock of its place in the world, is rapidly diminishing. This is not because Britain has chosen to decline—Albion is simply stumbling into irrelevance.

This is fair enough but whilst me may have played a smaller role in the Ukraine issue I think there has been a danger of the UK talking loudly and carrying a small stick.

The article puts forward three reasons why the Uk is finished as a global power…

The British government doesn’t do strategy.

Strategy is, roughly, the process of using ways (processes) and means (material) in order to achieve political ends. Although British politicians have never struggled to communicate ambitious ends, the British government is awful at cohering ways and means to achieve them.

This is a common and probably justified comment. We know that the SDSR was finance driven but then when you think about it, strategy is all well and good but you have to pay for it. The upcoming review will be conducted in a period of significant global conflict and uncertainty but anyone expecting some grand strategy is in for a big surprise, and yet for the lack of a grand strategy, British governments do have a baseline of understanding of their chosen way forward. We can all wish for more of course, but that is unlikely to be granted.

How about British pork barrel politics?

To make matters worse, much of the money that is still spent on defence will in fact further domestic political aims, rather than foreign policy ends. As Britain becomes increasingly insular, the old adage that ‘all politics is local’ is asserting itself. British Defence Minister Michael Fallon has already promised to ‘spare’ Scotland any significant defence cuts, and that is an astrategic promise that the ascendant Scottish National Party will force him to keep. Some politicians are also now asking the army and navy to prioritise addressing a burgeoning domestic refugee crisis (the police commissioner of Surrey specifically demanded Nepalese Ghurkas). Even when Britain tries to think globally, it seems only capable of acting locally.

In comparison with other nations, especially the USA, we have remarkably little pork barrel type issues in UK defence. With some exceptions, the UK defence market is probably the most open in the world, certainly more open than France, Germany or the USA. Yes there is the Scottish issue and we know that Scottish infantry regiments, despite being relatively poorly recruited were favoured over better recruited English regiments, but in the grand scheme of things this has a minor impact. There is significant investment in the Scottish defence industry and unit basing but the UK has to build ships and base submarines somewhere, and it has to have a nationally representative recruitment, so I fail to understand how this all of a sudden makes defence spending focussed on domestic issues at the expense of foreign affairs. Are Scottish infantry battalions unable to deploy overseas because they are Scottish or do submarine’s based at Faslane only patrol Scottish waters?


Although Prime Minister Cameron has labelled the Islamic State an ‘existential threat’ to Britain, the UK’s contribution to fighting them in the Middle East has been tiny, and Cameron has instead focused on countering extremism within the British isles. This is not how a world power acts—but without the ability to do strategy, we should expect no better.

Tiny, in comparison with who exactly?

This is unfair, ISIS is a global issue but not necessarily a significant threat to the UK so why should we be bothered?

We have discussed ISIS and the extents of our involvement many times but Russia is a world power, China is a world power, what are they doing to fight ISIS?

The next reason cited is value for money.

Britain’s huge defence budget has a huge ‘value-for-money’ problem which puts Britain’s military capabilities at risk.

Britain gets less value than it should out of its defence spending, and as long as this remains the case, the SDSR can do very little to help staunch the decline of Britain’s military might.The British armed forces today are peerless in only one area: inefficiency. In 2012, for example, Britain had basically the same military mass as French, but spent about 25% more to sustain them, only in part because the French are more willing than the British to plan to rely on allies for logistical assistance for sustained operations.

The author is starting to show their complete lack of understanding now.

Hang on, peerless in inefficiency, I call bullshit on that one.

And as for admiring the French because they rely on allies, am confused, it is fashionable to look at the French armed forces from a Top Trumps perspective and moan and groan about the UK but the simple reality for France is they don’t have the breadth of capability the UK has, has a number of glaring capability gaps that might not show up in a fantasy armed forces league table and has to rely on outside assistance for many out of area operations, a setup to be admired it is not.

Comparisons with the US

Comparing the UK and the US is even more illuminating, as the UK military desires ‘global reach’ and thus seeks similar capabilities to the US. Britain spent about $54 billion on defence in 2014, whereas America spent about $578 billion. America, however, got much more ‘bang for its buck’. On land, the US maintains about 2,400 M1-series Main Battle Tanks in its Army, most of which are new models purchased since 2010, and another 400 or so in its Marine Corps (the International Institute for Strategic Studies says the US has 2,785 MBTs in total). The UK, meanwhile, has only 227 aging Challenger 2 MBTs in service, which have the most outdated main gun in NATO and vintage optics. At sea, the US Navy has 273 warships afloat, while the Royal Navy is barely treading water with 19. In the air, the US Air Force and Navy have about 14,000 combat-ready aircraft, while the Royal Air Force has a mere 700. To sum up: the US spends about 11 times as much as the UK on defence, but for this amount it gets 12 times as many tanks, 14 times as many ships (it will probably be 16 times as many by the end of the decade) and 20 times as many planes.

Like for instance, despite the US spending 11 times as much on defence as the UK but gets 12 times as many tanks, the simple reason is pork barrel politics, not because the US Army actually want that many. Congress won’t allow the Army to stop production of the M1 so fresh of the production line they go straight into storage.

Efficient, do me a favour.

14 times as many ships, yes, by counting the ships we don’t and 19 ships is only the frigate and destroyer fleet, count on a like for like basis and the numbers come out in favour of the model of inefficiency that is the UK.

The author has evidently not heard of the term ‘economy of scale’

This comparison inevitably admittedly papers over some important differences.

No Shit Sherlock, as the kids might say

The British defence budget, for example, has had to deal with higher inflation since 2008, can take advantage of fewer economies of scale, and, despite its tendency to emulate American capabilities, has somewhat different strategic imperatives, such as the need to maintain a stable of 485 horses for ceremonial duties. But it also hides the fact that British military equipment is generally older and less versatile than American gear. Fundamentally, it highlights Britain’s numerical and managerial problems: even if Britain had a strategic narrative for what its armed forces should do, it no longer has the tanks, planes and ships to act like a global power.

Oh, he has heard of economies of scale.

Seriously, an article with aspirations to be taken seriously quoting the Daily Mirror about horses being an important strategic differentiator and reasons for the UK not being a global power, really, was it written by the lead author for the Beano.

To really promote efficiency, the SDSR team would have to ‘address the key question as to what volume of investment in security will generate the highest overall value to the UK,’ in the words of the Civitas report, and have the freedom to cut inefficient and expand useful programs within the defence budget. As it stands, it has neither power.

This is actually a good point, the difference between value and cost is difficult to find.


Britain’s leaders remain reluctant to provide significant forces to support globally important missions, putting Britain’s leadership role in NATO at risk.

Britain is a minor player in global military operations today. To wage what Prime Minister Cameron hyperbolically labelled ‘the struggle of our generation’ against IS, the UK has deployed a grand total of eight 1980s-vintage Tornado jets, which are only allowed to strike targets in Iraq. As a February report by the Defence Committee noted, this is a smaller force than those deployed by Australia, Germany, Spain and Italy. To ward off Russia, the UK has sent four Typhoons to help defend the Baltic, roughly in line with what other NATO states have sent, and artificially inflated its role in NATO by providing 1,000 staff officers and enablers to ‘lead’ NATO’s new high-readiness task force. However, its land forces sat out two major NATO exercises in June, leaving allies wondering: where has the British Army gone?

Is the author taking the piss?

Eighties era jets, OK, carrying the very latest electronics and weapon systems much like the F16’s and F15’s I guess. Australia isn’t a member of NATO and being compared to those titans of NATO participation Germany, Spain and Italy is just ridiculous. What air despatch did Spain, Italian and Germany provide to the Yazidis’, how many Italian special forces are deployed, what about signals intelligence aircraft with a Spanish flag or Italian unmanned aircraft?

Oh yes, four fifths of the square root of none.

The UK is the second largest contributor to actions against ISIS.

Reading the article I found myself increasingly irritated because it was just shot full or factual errors and yet there was a lot you could agree with, the sentiment was right, the underlying facts, absent without leave.

Let me provide an illustration.

The greatest significant near-term risk is that Britain’s relationship with NATO will far apart. Ever since the UK abandoned NATO’s Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan and left Italy, Turkey, Germany and the US to pick up the slack, NATO staffers have been extremely suspicious of the UK’s dedication to the organization.

Operation Resolute Support has it’s own website, you can look at the contributions (latest figures for May 2015)

FireShot Capture 51 - -

Whilst it is true that Germany has 850 personnel deployed, after the fighting, Italy 500 and Turkey 503, compared to the measly 470 British personnel, I do not think the UK will be taking any lessons from anyone on contributions to the Afghanistan mission. Am loathe to make a point off the back of dead service personnel but any casual look back at the numbers will see it was the UK doing the hard yards.

They are not fooled by Britain’s contributions of staff officers and support troops, which only serve to mask its minimal contributions of combat power. A growing number of them would like to see the second-in-command slot at NATO become a rotating position that rewards significant troop contributors, rather than an eternal reward to Great Britain for fighting WWII.They are unlikely to make that happen this fall, but in the long run, unless Britain makes serious changes to the way it does business, it is almost inevitable. This fact should provide an important inflection point for British defence thinkers as they ponder the ongoing SDSR. Although a new strategic narrative alone will do nothing to address the severe strategic and managerial deficits which have left Britain so feeble, it might help guide Britain in the right direction. Above all, a renewed dedication to NATO is essential, as is a renewed dedication to real strategic thought and efficiency within the British government which can underpin it in the long run. Unfortunately, almost no one expects this out the ongoing NSS and SDSR effort.

And with that, it ends.

Some of the sentiment I can agree with, there are harsh but true points within, but the means used to underscore that sentiment are clumsy, inept and inaccurate.

Have a read of the article in full, what do you think?

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September 9, 2015 7:51 am

There’s always the extremes–SDSR will be negative, SDSR will be positive.

From Luddite Lodge
From Luddite Lodge
September 9, 2015 8:04 am

What worries is why when we spend so much does our vest sometimes have more holes than that of Rab C Nesbitt?
One answer I will put forward is that the MOD would rather buy the very best and go for quality over quantity

Steve Coltman
Steve Coltman
September 9, 2015 8:22 am

Problem is, in politics it is often the perception of strength and weakness that counts more than the reality. Admittedly, politics itself can be a bit unreal…..

Peter Elliott
September 9, 2015 8:31 am

The shortage of bang for buck has much to do with overheated budgets and inept decision making for reasons of short term cash management. Hopefully these problems are mostly now in the past.

The Other Chris
September 9, 2015 8:38 am

..British military equipment is generally older and less versatile than American gear…

Just want to highlight this point as it indicates a common misconception with UK kit.

There are a few very notable items in our inventory that are outdated (no need to name), however the vast majority of our equipment is modern, up to date, undergoing further upgrades or with replacement programs under way.

It will not be long until our front line naval and air force assets have all been constructed this millennium.

With regards economies of scale, at the volumes discussed there’s also immense inefficiency that can creep in. I think we would all love to reduce our unit costs however at the size of military we have it won’t take $30b just to replace Snatch/Husky…

On the second point about versatility, more driven by necessity but with real benefits derived from such, the reverse is true. Although we could talk about Scout SV, Tornado, T23, Fort Victoria or a host of other assets, Merlin is just one prime example. For the most part QEC will carry a single model complement of helicopter able to operate in ASW, MSA, AEW, ASaC, Pax, COD, VERTREP, Rescue and Utility roles.

Modern and versatile.

EDIT: Another aspect that doesn’t help perception and conception about the UK is we’re highly critical of ourselves and self deprecating as a national trait.

September 9, 2015 9:07 am

The article is full of nonsense but the basic point stands. British military power, both relative and real, has collapsed in the last 25 years. Even in the last decade.

Peter Elliott
September 9, 2015 9:26 am

TOC is also right however that the crash diet we’ve undergone has forced us to embrace real meaningful efficiencies that other western allies still shy away from.

Functionally we now have joint command and the principle of Defence Main Effort wired into the dna of our forces. No major procurements (apart perhaps from CASD) can now go through without meaningful tri service support.

These are huge strides forward and mean that every pound we now spend on platforms, munitions or people will go a lot further in delivering effect than even 10 years ago.

The perception and reputation problems are also real. Unless or until we fight and demonstrably win another “small war” without American help they won’t go away. Some major exercises like pushing a combined arms spearhead down to the Falklands or into the Baltic would go some way to correct things. If those are too politically sensitive why not stage a tri service all arms UK “invasion” of a Canadian or Australian training area just to show we can. We seem to be very good at “wargame” type exercises but less good at actually pushing significant numbers of men and materiel out together. I get that it would cost millions. But as a large scale demonstration of sovereign capability it is probably overdue. And if we try it and it fucks our readiness cycles up for the next 6 months after then maybe we might even learn something from it.

El Sid
El Sid
September 9, 2015 9:27 am

the US Navy has 273 warships afloat, while the Royal Navy is barely treading water with 19.

Talk about not comparing like with like! 273 is the figure for all USN ships, including gators, carriers, MCM and supply ships. 19 is the number of RN destroyers and frigates, the comparable number for USN is just over 100. There is a difference in quality at both ends – T23 are fightier than LCS, Burkes have more missiles than T45, but they could at least learn to count.

You could say the same of just about every Western nation though, couldn’t you? Plus Russia and most of the rest of the world bar eg China.

September 9, 2015 9:44 am

..British military equipment is generally older and less versatile than American gear…

OK lets look at one of the primary combat arms, the Royal Artillery

light arty – US L119, used so that they can fire antique ammo, max range now 13km ish. UK L118, modern ammo max range 18km

155mm SP US M109 with upgrades basically a 1950s design, low rate of fire. UK AS-90 1990s design excellent rate of fire.

Engineer Tom
September 9, 2015 10:01 am

What I would love to see is a joint, UK/Canada/Australia war game over 3 months. We would pre-deploy a division to Canada and face off with a Canadian Division over an artificial border. Then once the war game began both us and the Australians would have to deploy another division to the theatre in support. Would be a massive commitment and cost millions, and would definitely screw up training cycles etc, but would both be a massive show of force and also very helpful to all three nations as it would involve testing elements of the military’s to their breaking point.

Rocket Banana
September 9, 2015 10:06 am

I agree with Hohum in that the general gist of the article is unfortunately correct. We are a diminishing power.

I think this comes from either some very sensible strategic thinking or utter stupidity and lack of deciding what it is the UK actually wants to be.

Who are we? What are we? A melting pot of civilisations? A global trading hub?

Then make it so. Properly. World class. Stop pi$$ing about trying to keep the American generals happy.

Alternatively take our place at the tails of the Americans and become the 51st state.

September 9, 2015 10:08 am

@El Cid “You could say the same of just about every Western nation though, couldn’t you? Plus Russia and most of the rest of the world bar eg China.”

Exactly, we might have gone from say 50 DD/FF to 19, but most other nations have experienced similar, if not greater reductions

Engineer Tom
September 9, 2015 10:11 am

On land, the US maintains about 2,400 M1-series Main Battle Tanks in its Army, most of which are new models purchased since 2010,

The article he references clearly states they are old tanks with an upgrade package, does he really think the C2 hasn’t been updated over the years.

The Other Chris
September 9, 2015 10:17 am


What are you talking about? The RA has shiny modern Watchkeeper WK450’s to direct the upcoming Mk 45 Mod 4’s with Excalibur N5 ammunition…

What more do they need? ;)

In all seriousness, there are a few very notable items that need updating as mentioned. Given the size of our forces and the nature of the items in question, their replacement is not beyond us over the next few years.

Watch this space.

John Hartley
John Hartley
September 9, 2015 10:50 am

You can quibble about details, but the broad thrust of this article is spot on. Britain has lightweight, clueless politicians & to make matters worse, the wise Sir Humphrey mandarins have been replaced by lightweight, management speak obsessed, responsibility dodgers.
The British military may look ok on paper, but how much of it is ready to fight? A lack of spares, vital bits of kit, small stocks of ordnance that would soon be used up in a shooting war. Lack of national will to start new military aircraft projects (civil too). A lack of interest in UK manufacturing too.

September 9, 2015 11:15 am

no doubt our current government and PM lack any ability to form coherent strategy. Largely due to the fact that none of them have ever had a real job that daddy did not provide for them.

However strategy ultimately has to translate to the benefit of the people paying for it.

Russia’s strategy has signal handedly decimated what was left of the countries economy.

China’s strategy of pissing off its neighbours and propping up African dictators who will one day give them two fingers and fail to repay those loans is similarity detrimental to the Chinese.

The French seem to be doing a fair bit of strategy but then they are coming from an arguably low base and there foreign policy seems to be as much about hiding enept government policy at home.

The USA appears to have even less strategy that we do at the moment. Arguably for the same reason because all the grand strategy of the Blair and bush years cost us a fortune in blood and treasure and produced zero benefit for the people paying for it. They are also currently wasting their time and treasure in the South China Sea coming up against the Chinese for the benefit of nations like the Philippines who not only kicked the USA out but will not even bring themselves to make harsh statement against the Chinese for fear of loosing their business. They are much happier to let the Americans do it for them free of charge.

In this world it’s significantly better to have no strategy and copy the German model of free riding as much as possible. Where is switzerlands grand strategy?

These authors need to take their 19th century view and stick it up their back side. In the Facebook world there are no such thing as great powers or grand strategy.

September 9, 2015 1:27 pm

we might be going form 50 FF/DD to 19 but we gained two massive aircraft carriers in the process and a pretty substantial amphibious force. the fleet of the 1980’s was much more of a regional power fleet tasked to carry out ASW in a relatively small area. The fleet of today is much smaller but massively more capable at a range of tasks so where is the decline? The RN of the early 2020’s will be light years beyond the Russians or Chinese in capability. It’s also telling of the respect that Russia and China has for the UK in the bashing they both try and give us. Don’t here them saying much about the Italians, Germans Spanish or even French for that matter. The Chinese president also went out of his way to gain an audience with the queen. Don’t see him doing that for the Italian president.

Britain did have a massive military and diplomatic decline. However this happened between 1945 and 1980. Arguably we have been in decline since 1850. What we are today and have is arguably what we have been since the end of the empire.

If anything has changed its our loss of guilt for the “crimes “of the empire not giving up our need to run around sorting out other people’s problems for no benefit to ourselves.

It’s also worth noting that well we are far from any kind of great military power we are still a major soft power with influence far beyond almost any other country other than the USA.

Arguably in the modern world no one is a great military power. The combined efforts of The USA and Britain were barley able to subdue one medium sized Middle eastern country that the British empire was able to dominate and control with nothing more than a few aircraft and handful of soldiers.

The Other Chris
September 9, 2015 1:31 pm

Heh, I’ve found a tool to sharpen mango’s with. What a time to be alive.

September 9, 2015 1:40 pm

@ John Hartley

No doubt you are correct about the UK military being in no shape to fight but can you show me one that is. The USA is down to two ready combat brigades and much of the Russian military’s vehicles would not survive contact with the ignition key. Much of the Chinese military is said to be for display purposes only. We are f**ked but then everyone else is in bad shape as well. Arguably the reason our military is in such a bad state is because all its potential opponents are in a bad state. if the third shock army reappeared on the boarder of Germany then no doubt we would begin spending more.

This is a good thing because the last thing we want is the worlds major powers tooled up for War.

September 9, 2015 4:00 pm


What have you done!! You’ve started an arms race!


John Hartley
John Hartley
September 9, 2015 4:38 pm

. China, god knows how combat ready it is, but the new kit on display looks impressive. The ZTZ-99A main battle tank, for example. Meanwhile Britain has shut its tank factory, so no Challenger 3. Best we can hope for is a 120mm armed version of Scout & even that is far from certain. The YJ-12 & YJ-83 supersonic anti-ship missiles. Then the Russian/Indian Brahmos + Russian supersonic anti -ship missiles. A Royal Navy taskforce would be small to start with now & would be badly mauled by supersonic anti-ship missiles. The point defence is a puny, elderly 20mm Phallanx. Frankly anything under a 35mm Millenium stands little chance against supersonic missiles. We could develop Perseus, but that has gone quiet. The US probably wants a laser to replace Phallanx, but what if we get attacked before then?
On a general note, the enemy does not need to be perfect everywhere, they just need superiority in one area, then attack us on that.

September 9, 2015 4:55 pm

JH, my opinion is that *any* gun based interception system stand little chance against supersonic missiles. They might get one, in fact the old CIWS were tested against supersonic drones, but a pair would be bad news. Even that *one* that they might get run the risk of simply ricocheting into the hull anyway ala Antrim.

On the other hand, the supersonic missiles are not the super weapon people tend to make them out to be, at maximum range, think you have about 2 minutes to get ready for them and they are very, very obvious. The West seems to be going the other way, slow but stealthy in an attempt to sneak them through the enemy defences.

September 9, 2015 7:27 pm

The problem isn’t one of capabilities, but of strategic relevancy.

The UK has abdicated strategic relevancy by spurning simple opportunities to “make a statement”, in favor of becoming a reliable, boring and ultimately invisible partner.

Let’s compare, from the perspective of someone sitting in that “five sided shithouse”:

– If you want to talk about Eastern Europe, you talk to Berlin
– If you want to talk about Africa, you talk to Paris
– If you want to talk about the Middle East, you talk to Tel Aviv, Riyadh, and probably Paris (Lebanon, carrier strike, and buddy buddy relationships with most players)
– If you want to talk about the Indian Ocean, you talk to Delhi and Paris
– If you want to talk about the South Pacific you talk to Canberra and Paris
– You don’t talk about Asia, just leave that to the US, China and Japan to figure it out

What’s left for the UK? South Atlantic? No one cares – Argentina has made sure of that by self-destructing.

The UK could have made a statement any number of ways, by keeping MPA, arming T45 with Tomahawk, actually using HMS Ocean aggressively in Libya (like the French), deploying forces to Africa etc. It chose to be an invisible partner instead, not the first people you call up when you have a problem.

stephen duckworth
September 9, 2015 7:43 pm

And if you want someone to fight by your side for a dozen years in Iraq and Afghanistan? We had big commitments in the last dozen years or so both on land , at sea and in the air , just how far can you stretch our budget. Oh yeah I forgot one of the three CASD that defends the West.

September 9, 2015 8:32 pm

The author of the article is obviously an idiot with an agenda. One thing stands true is that HMG needs to regrow some balls – actions speak louder than words. The UK though has nothing to be ashamed of and definitely has nothing to explain.

September 9, 2015 10:45 pm

I thought we were just named the soft power capital of the world? We do need more bang, just a couple more Astutes and T45’s loaded with Tlam and another 30 Tranche 3 Typhoons and MPA would do the trick in my opinion. Also the article ignores GCHQ, arguably a more effective deterrent and offensive weapon than anything apart from the NSA.

September 10, 2015 3:11 am
Reply to  HK

What on earth is building two 65,000 tonne fleet carriers if not a statement of intent?

And please no tabloid nonsense about them only carrying 12 aircraft, when for an operational deployment it would be two dozen JSF and 14 ASW/AEW Merlins. The Type 45 is not TLAM capable, but it’s been confirmed that the Type 26/GCS will be fitted at build with 24 Mk 41 strike length cells for TLAM, LRASM, ASROC.

The French deployed forces to Africa because it was in their interest to do so, however they had of course not deployed troops to Iraq, and the French contribution to the war in Afghanistan was much less that the UK’s ie

Troops deployed (at peak):

UK – 9,500 plus special forces
France – 3,900


UK – 453 killed
France – 88

Also worth adding that even though the poorly researched and biased article says the UK contribution to the air campaign against ISIL is tiny, the UK is the second largest contributor.

903 EAW aircraft

8 x Tornado GR4
10 x MQ-9A Reapers
2 x E-3D Sentry
2 x Sentinel R1 ISTAR
1 x Shadow R1 ISTAR
1 x RC-135W Airseeker SIGINT
1 A330 Voyager
1 C-17
1-2 C-130J
4 X Chinooks (used to deliver arms to the Kurds have been withdrawn).

The UK contributes 30 percent of the entire coalitions ISR capability, and 70 percent of it tactical

The number of weapons released is around 500 now eg

GR4 – 300 Paveway IV and Brimstone
Reaper – 150-200 Hellfire and GBU-12

By contrast the French have six Rafales based at Al Dhafra in the UAE, and six Mirage 2000 operating from Jordan, plus an E-3 Sentry, an MPA and a KC-135 tanker.
The CdG was deployed in support of the operation, but was withdrawn after 6-8 weeks.

Does that fairly modest contribution mean France is sliding into irrelevance?

It’s strange that there are not dooooooom mongering articles written about the French only getting 6 ASW and 2 FREDA (AAW variant) FREMMs in total, or only having two modern AAW destroyers compared to the RN’s six Type 45s, or selling the second FREMM Normandie to Egypt, when it was just about to enter service with the MN.
The French fleet after all only has 11 escorts of comparable capability to the RN’s 19 T45/T23s.

The French escort force in the future will consist of:

2 Horizon AAW
5 upgraded La Fayette-class light frigates

So with 6 Type 45s and 13 Type 26s (8,000 t full load, 48 Sea Ceptor, 24 Mk 41 strike length cells,
5 inch gun, 2 CIWS, 2 30mm cannons, 2 helos, FMB, Chinook capable flight deck, EMF 60 RMs etc) the disparity in capability will only increase.

September 10, 2015 4:14 am

You can be quite certain that SDSR 2015 would look better than a Corbyn-led SDSR.

September 10, 2015 5:15 am

@ Observer – no need to resort to chemical warfare with your jack fruit and Durian bombs :-) You know us westerners can’t stomach that.

@ John Hartley

Did we not deploy Aster 30 – 45 SAMPSON and now Sea Ceptor to intercept super sonic ASM? CIWS are a waste of time against such systems as the velocity of the missile means that if you are close enough to hit in it will make zero difference as the objects mass will carry it on to the target even if its hit.

Better to go for soft kill electronic weapons and hard kill longer rand. Arguably the RM has the best protected fleet in the world against such weapons.

I agree that China has some impressive looking capabilities but a shinny new tank on parade is a long way from a efficient deploy able armored division.

The Chinese PLA is far more concerned these days about its other business’s in property and commodity trading. Exercises are said to be for show purposes only. There navy and air force are arguably better and more engaged but I am still highly dubious on the utility of most of their platforms and just how many are operational.

September 10, 2015 5:31 am

@ HK –

“Let’s compare, from the perspective of someone sitting in that “five sided shithouse”:
– If you want to talk about Eastern Europe, you talk to Berlin
– If you want to talk about Africa, you talk to Paris
– If you want to talk about the Middle East, you talk to Tel Aviv, Riyadh, and probably Paris (Lebanon, carrier strike, and buddy buddy relationships with most players)
– If you want to talk about the Indian Ocean, you talk to Delhi and Paris
– If you want to talk about the South Pacific you talk to Canberra and Paris
– You don’t talk about Asia, just leave that to the US, China and Japan to figure it out”

I disagree, If you want to talk about any where in the world then talk to the USA. If you tried talking to the USA and they won’t listen then talk to the UK and ask them to make your case.

Think the USA does not listen to us then we have to explain events in Syria. The USA and France were 24 hours away from launching air-raids on Syria. The British Parliament voted against action and the USA stood down.

Those two or three TLAMS we were going to launch might not be militarily significant however politically in Washington they are vital.

And this is during a period of some of the poorest relations we have had with the USA. No other country in the world has a greater ability to sway the US position than the UK.

That is why people in the gulf like the Saudi’s continue to deal with us. Not for our own weight but for our ability to sway the USA.

Obviously the USA will pursue its own interest and these interest occasionally run counter to ours but we maintain a higher degree of influence in Washington that any one else.

As the two largest and most powerful English speaking countries we will always have that relationship not matter who is in the White house of Downing Street. As the USA shrinks from its role of world super power that relationship is only likely to grow closer. So that’s why we pin our interest on riding on the US coat tails as bang for buck its probably the most effective strategy.

Sure we could copy the French as well and take a bigger role in Africa changing our army back to a colonial police force however that would take our ability away to deploy a Division with all the bells and whistles required and if you can’t play in the Division league then you are of little use to the US military.

Also where is the benefit in being Africa’s policeman. Will they be buying any Typhoons as the Saudi’s do from us?

Much better to sit back and provide key enablers to other peoples operations where we can retain influence but not at the costs of loosing influence with our number one partner.

September 10, 2015 8:24 am
Reply to  El Sid

Counting Russia “in” depends on whether you take the 25 yrs or the last decade part of the statement
– over the last decade the Russian rearmament/ modernisation effort has been vast relative to the size of the economy (at least one Minister of Finance has had to go for saying so)

September 10, 2015 8:51 am

So the indented comment to El Sid’s, under it, moved to an irrelevant position; will need to use the ” facility going forward

September 10, 2015 9:52 am

Let us be really honest, the only ones post Cold War with the ability and desire to intervene on a large scale worldwide is the US. Trying to emulate them might not be the best course of action for various reasons, the primary one of which is that they are drawing upon the resources of a whole continent while the rest of us do not have that luxury. We (and I include us in Singapore as well) might be better off considering how we can support them or what each individual country can bring to the table, which in the UK’s case is a very, very impressive ISAR capability, a coalition that does not imply a US only invasion, very good air defence ships and a decent air force. Hardly something to cry and beat your chest about while moaning about parsimony. If you don’t compare it to the superpowers or potential superpowers, you still come out ahead of the pack. Of course, everyone wants “more” and they want it yesterday, but that hardly means that the larder is empty. Compared to the rest of Europe, the UK is in a very good position.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
September 10, 2015 11:29 am

Reads as though one of the Cousins feels we are letting the side down and not pulling our weight in respect of the Family Estate…and our various reactions reflect the extent to which we agree or disagree with that position and feel guilty about it, or in some cases believe that the overall business strategy is misconceived, and needs a fundamental re-evaluation…it’s the precursor to the sort of Christmas where everybody eventually gets pissed, has a full-on shouting match and wakes up with a crunching hangover reflecting on the fact that blood is thicker than water…

Such an article might be written for a German or French newspaper, but would have a very different tone, a much lower likelihood of publication…and a fundamentally different reaction…which as far as I can see is very much the point.

And in the end, we know perfectly well we aren’t going to spend Christmas with Belgium and although we might have some of the neighbours in for Boxing Day Drinks, they aren’t really family…

Festive Gloomy

Deja Vu
Deja Vu
September 10, 2015 1:17 pm

Its the perception not the facts that counts. Military capability needs the political will to use it and it is here that there is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that the UK now lacks the political will.

What can be done I don’t know.

What I remember is someone saying that Mrs T’s action in the South Atlantic was seen as evidence of UK’s standing by its obligations and this had a positive effect on the leaders of the historically neutral and less enthusiastic NATO members.

Going to war is a prerogative power* Tony Blair did us no favours putting GW2 to the vote and if he hadn’t had to persuade his party , might have retained his credibility.

The Declaration of World War 1 was made at a Privy Council consisting of the Minister of Works, two courtiers and the King.

Jeremy M H
September 10, 2015 1:18 pm

Personally being from the U.S. I don’t see the UK as being way behind the curve compared to others (Germany…looking at you). I think what it really is is that the UK is perceived as different in a positive way from the rest of Europe and is becoming less different.

If you look at the NATO history of spending back in the 1970’s the U.S. and UK were well put in front. They were the only ones with in the 5.00% range for GDP spent on defense. As you rolled into the 1980’s the U.S. rearmed and stayed around 6% while the UK retreated a bit but was still in the mid 4’s and well ahead of everyone else. It was about 2/3rds the rate the U.S. was going.

If we go to very recent history of the last 5 or so years and the UK is nearing 2% while the U.S. is 3.5-4.0% depending on the year. So there have been clear trends down for both forces no doubt. But the Uk budget now is as a percentage of GDP closer to that of Belgium or the Dutch than it is to the U.S.

That isn’t a bad thing necessarily, it just makes things different. I am not one to complain about what the UK is doing. Relative to others it can hardly be criticized. But there is a difference to where things were in the past. The outlooks just aren’t quite as similar as they used to be.

September 10, 2015 4:46 pm

OK, agreed the article is crap. However we do get horrendously pathetic value for money out of our fifth biggest defence budget in the world, we really do !

September 10, 2015 5:20 pm
Reply to  Peter Elliott

Ahh..yes….something on the scale of an ‘Operation Lionheart 84’…..can’t see the HMT picking up the bill for that one….I mean the aircraft carriers still have to be paid for.

September 10, 2015 5:22 pm
Reply to  Obsvr

“155mm SP US M109 with upgrades basically a 1950s design, low rate of fire. UK AS-90 1990s design excellent rate of fire.”

And how many of the super-duper AS-90s do we have vs the cheap, vintage M109s? Is that yet another example of the much vaunted ‘quality over quantity’?

September 10, 2015 5:23 pm
Reply to  Rocket Banana

Brilliantly cynical – top notch! :)

September 10, 2015 5:27 pm
Reply to  Martin

” if the third shock army reappeared on the boarder of Germany then no doubt we would begin spending more.”

It would be an awfully long way for them to walk from Russia or would they be InterRrailing….can you imagine how big the InterRail group discount would be?

September 10, 2015 6:26 pm

I think its just timing.

We just pulled out of Iraq and Afgan, two wars we basically lost and it will take a few years for us to want to do much in the way of show of power.

Europe just had a huge financial melt down and Germany basically propped them up, giving them huge polictical clout worldwide. We are coming out of it ourselves but we only propped up Ireland, who aren’t exactly a global important nation.

We are in a era that America is becoming less relevant, as China is starting to dominate Asian water and we just see America complaining but doing nothing. and we have Russia is war mongering. The more America tries to marginalise Russia and China the more they are pushing the two countries together who have the ability to nullify America.

France has shown a bit more of an aggressive streak in Libya etc, but gone quiet again.

Give it 5 to 10 years and everything will be different again. America will have a new government, and may try to flex its muscles against China and Russia and we all know which nation they will turn to, because Germany, France etc can’t be relied on.

Power is a snap shot thing, if we need to deploy ground troops in numbers again, suddenly we will be seen as a major power.

September 10, 2015 6:51 pm

Its also politcal context. Iraq was a poltical disaster for Blair, and Afghanistan too. There was a high degree of dismay at the way MoD and the Chiefs were running the armed forces too – much of it justified. Brigadiers rotating through TFH as part of their ‘career path’ – 6 month gig, run a successful opereration and then get promoted: meanwhile no-one was really taking command of the big picture. The cost of these operations was astronomical too, while the whole system had become massively lopsided – with an enormous officer corps and fewer and fewer actual units to command. Training suffered and budgets were stripped to keep these operations going. Smart procurement and a lack of political control over the Chief’s force strcuture and equipment aspirations led to massively ambitious equipment programmes whose budgets were largely wishful thinking – and in fact far more than we could afford on a stagnating economy with major operations to support too. Many simply wasting gazilions of cash on endless studies and demonstrators as main gate became more and more financally unfeasible – FRES, of course, but taken together with CVF/F-35, Astute, MRA4, Typhoon, T45, C-17, A400, Voyager, the beloved C1,C2 and C3 the renewal of the amphibious fleet and RFA, programmes for more artillery and complex weapons etc. etc. On top of this the plethora of UORs for Afghanistan, came along. So by 2010 we had spent most of the funds allocated for new equipment on UORs, we had also sustained two major operations for 7 years, with little real outcome, and strong evidence of war fatigue in the general population. In a sense Cameron arrived in number 10 a little like Nixon arrived at the White House in 1969. He needed to get us out and get the massively overspending MoD and operational costs of Afghanistan under control. Given the requirement to get public finances under control after QE and the Brown borrowing-splurge (necessary but awful) to prop up the banking sector, the last five years have, in effect, been a foreign policy ‘holiday’ as well as a capability holiday for the armed forces (one leading to the other – or vice versa). Of course world events make that difficult to achieve without criticism – especially from allies that count upon us. But, like Arnie, I’m sure we will be back.

September 10, 2015 6:58 pm

@Steve – great minds and all that ;-)

September 10, 2015 8:17 pm

I fail to see how Iraq and Afghanistan can be considered “disasters”, the Taliban are no longer in power and AQ is fast becoming “main stream” (one of the other reasons why ISIL became so popular with the radicals). It is just the media bombardment of “bad news” that has you brainwashed into thinking it was a disaster. Look up the responses to the Battle of Jutland to see how the media can turn a victory into a defeat.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
September 10, 2015 8:24 pm

@Observer – agree about the outcomes of the campaigns…the disaster has been the effect on public opinion of the coverage you refer to, and the complete failure of the political class to even present an alternative narrative, much less defend it…hence the complete failure of leadership in respect of defence and foreign policy issues that we are currently experiencing…the very point which underlies the article which prompted this discussion.


September 11, 2015 4:20 am

@ GNB and Observer

Thank god the perception of Iraq and Afghanistan is a failure. Otherwise our current group of politicians would be tempted to try the same nation building exercise again at a cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of our lives.

The fact with nation building in the Muslim world is that the juice is not worth the squeeze. What ever government eventually replaces the one we install with have the same antiquated 15 th century outlook on the world as the one we got rid of.

September 11, 2015 4:23 am

We need to stop thinking we can solve these peoples problems or that any of their problems are our fault.

September 11, 2015 8:24 am

@ Allan

More than enough to support the mechanised brigades, which is basically what they were purchased for. If there had been a bigger army more would have been acquired.

However, given that their rate of fire is 3 rds in 10 secs or 6 rds in a minute for three mins (that’s the book, operationally rather more has been achieved), then the firepower they deliver (and that’s what arty is about) was well above M109 (3 rds in a min and no burst)

September 11, 2015 9:14 am


Wether Iraq was a military defeat is still open for debate but it I would not label it a success and in terms of poltically both domestically and internationaly it was a failure. As for our own strategic interests that is also open for debate but I would not consider it a success either.

Afghanistan will probably revert back to how it was pre 9/11 in the not too distant future maybe sooner if the Taliban do not fracture and make a peace agreement with the government and ISIL maybe gaining a foot hold in the country, so probably not a success either.

‘In other news highlighting the province’s precarious security, the strategic district of Musa Qala fell to the Taliban on Wednesday after fighting that lasted all night, members of the provincial council said. Officials had warned that if Musa Qala fell, the Taliban could tighten their grip on northern Helmand.’

‘ALMAR, Afghanistan — At first, Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum tried to get help from his own government, lobbying the National Security Council to intervene as a Taliban offensive began making serious inroads on his home territory, a once relatively quiet northern region of Afghanistan.

But after months of mostly fruitless pleading, Mr. Dostum — a feared former warlord who had brutally fought the Taliban and also provoked some of the worst excesses of the long Afghan civil war — turned back to his roots’

Not much of a return for all the treasure and blood spilt to be honest.

Brian Black
Brian Black
September 11, 2015 9:20 am

The Americans regularly scramble aircraft based in Alaska against Russian aircraft, and they’ve had Russian bombers right down the west coast too. The Japanese also regularly intercept Russian as well as Chinese aircraft. It’s wrong to think that Russia only dares to fly its bombers around the UK.

On economies of scale, the UK could avoid buying bespoke equipment in small numbers, including extensive redesign of existing equipments.

For example, a number of countries, Australia, Denmark I think, and a couple of middleeeastern states have previously bought Chinook helicopters by pasting their relatively tiny orders onto the end of large US Army orders. They get themselves US Army spec aircraft and the economy of scale afforded by the US Army production run. The UK on the other hand have in a similar period designed their Chinook specifications, ordered the airframe and box of bits from Boeing, and then given the lot to Westlands to tinker about with in a unique job creation scheme. The end result is a similar, but much more expensive product.

You can then see a similar process with the ASCOD vehicles. You could assume that when it comes to buying 250 Challenger replacements, the UK will not just buy 250 tanks straight from the brochure of a major tank manufacturer and ship them to England. For a relatively small purchase, there’ll be substantial tinkering with the design, and substantial investment in an assembly plant to bolt bits of the self-assembly tank together.

There are also economies of scale to be had if the UK can set its strategic priorities and avoid the urge to buy into every capability at a consequently tiny scale. Every new capability and bit of equipment introduces basic costs in terms of training, logistics, design/redesign and development and so on; but then we often don’t make the most of various equipments and capabilities, deciding instead to reduce them to minimum holdings in order to pay for the introduction costs of the next thing to catch the generals’ and politicians’ eyes.

Our defence budget could go further if we divested certain capabilities and increased investment in those that remained; or if when we absolutely needed a small scale holding of equipment, we just bought the stuff off the shelf without chopping and changing everything.

September 11, 2015 12:17 pm


Nonsense about Afghanistan reverting. If you checked the history, you would find that the Taliban got into power in the first place with Pakistani help. A lot of it. Estimates then were that half their fighting power then was actually Pakistani regular military. Do you see the Pakistanis sticking their necks out again to help the radicals in this current situation? With the current anti-terrorism fad, there is no way that Pakistan is going to willingly help fund another radical government and get their country on the blacklist of every other nation in the world. In the past, it was worth it to weaken a potential aggressor on their border and get an “in” with the new government. These days, it’s not worth the risk of incurring international displeasure for them.

Domestically, it is a failure. Via the media. Internationally? Do you still see terrorist training camps in Afghanistan? Most of it these days are at the “angry man” level, no longer the structured militia army level training that used to be done. AQ has taken so much losses that they are becoming moderate. In fact, ISIS was actually an expelled offshoot of AQ for being too extreme. I’d say that is a success when you force a terrorist organization to reconsider its tactics for a more moderate approach. So what were the goals again going to Afghanistan? 1) Eliminate terrorist training camps and change to a more moderate government. Done? Yes. 2) Force AQ into inefficiency or extinction. Done? Yes.

That’s 2 for 2 by my count. Objectives met. Failure? Only in the eyes of disappointed reporters looking for death and destruction to pad their readership numbers.

Unfortunately, your point is also true. You can go in and tear up terrorist organizations. Rebuilding a country is a totally different story. And one open to the question of “Should we?”.

September 11, 2015 2:10 pm

@ observer – I agree with your point. I don’t see Afghanistan as a failure per say. I can’t see how we could be much more successful realistically.

But the end product was certainly not worth the $trillion + that it cost or the cost in lives on our side. We really can’t help people come into the 21st century when many of them like living in the 15th century and the ones that don’t are to lazy or sheepish to do anything about it.

There really are no moderates to work with in the Muslim world only degrees of extreme. It’s just not a place we should try and do anything major.

September 11, 2015 2:49 pm

The problem with Iraq and Afgan war is that success is based on what you consider the objective.

If the objective was to remove the former governments, then both were a huge success. This was the original objective and was a success no doubt.

If the objective was to cut the the optium trade, Afgan was a huge failure.

If the objective was to make the two countries more stable, they were a huge failure.

If the objective was the weaken terrorist groups, i think the opinion is out on that but my guess is the reverse has happened.

To be fair, none of the failures are really military failures, but a polictical one, there just wasn’t the will to to finish the job.

September 11, 2015 3:22 pm

“On land, the US maintains about 2,400 M1-series Main Battle Tanks in its Army, most of which are new models purchased since 2010, and another 400 or so in its Marine Corps (the International Institute for Strategic Studies says the US has 2,785 MBTs in total). The UK, meanwhile, has only 227 aging Challenger 2 MBTs in service, which have the most outdated main gun in NATO and vintage optics.”

Well that needs exploring:

2,400 purchased since 2010. Remanufactured would be a more accurate way of describing it. Only a small number comparatively were upgraded to the M1A2 SEP TUSK variant which is roughly equivalent to similar upgrades to Challenger II.

227 aging Challenger II. Aging yes but no more than the M1 Abrams is an aging design.

Outdated Maingun. The Maingun is not outdated just unique, it is newer than the L44 derived M256A1 fitted to the Abrams. If the Abrams gets a 55 calibre gun then we can talk about which is more outdated.

Vintage optics. Optics are entirely contemporary with that fitted to a number of other Western MBT designed around that time and whilst superseded by newer models are certainly not obsolete. CR2 actually shares a number of electronic systems with other tanks developed in that era including ironically the Abrams.

Jeremy M H
September 11, 2015 4:03 pm
Reply to  Fedaykin

I think we all agree the original article is improperly argued. If you want to see where the money spent goes on an absolute and relative basis it isn’t in combat vehicles.

Look at things like support aircraft, helicopters of all types and in particular space systems. Because of these things trying to compare anyone else to the U.S. Budget is very challenging.

A more instructive approach would be to compare other powers with similar budgets and vastly different procurement and operational strategies.

September 11, 2015 7:46 pm


Pre 9/11 Afghanistan was in the grip of a civil war between the United Front and the Taliban if the ANSF cannot control the insurgency (and there a lot of indications that they cannot) then there is a very good chance that there will be another civil war or that some elements of the Taliban will be in power after/if a peace deal is signed. As to ISI aid to the Taliban there were reports in 2012/2013 that this was still the case.

The ISAF mission was not just about chasing AQ and setting up a moderate government. It was instigated after the Bonn Agreement in which the training and establishment of the ANSF was a key part not to mention the smaller part of assisting in the rehabilitation of Afghanistan’s infrastructure.

In addition haven’t the ANSF claimed to have killed over 100 ISIL fighters in their country?

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
September 11, 2015 11:36 pm

– rather difficult to ignore an area of the world producing much of our energy, a refugee crisis “on a biblical scale” (which might still bring the EU down), and the command/control/ logistics for a growing terrorist threat at home…and perhaps worth observing that the earliest Jihadi attacks on the West preceded GW1 (Beirut in 1983)…and the “offence” which filled Osama Bin Laden with such rage was that the US led a UN Sanctioned Coalition with many Arab members which removed Saddam Hussain from Kuwait…but then stuck around at the request of those Arab states in order to keep him in his box.

Nation building might well have been a mistake, but post 9/11 a punitive expedition against Afghanistan was perfectly justifiable, and the real mistake with Saddam Hussain was not finishing the job in 1991…mostly because the said Arab regimes and the UN insisted that we should hold our fire. The whole outcome would have been quite different if we had deleted him then, before he had the chance to turn on the Kurds and Marsh Arabs…and before years of sanctions hollowed out Iraqi Civil Society, and ensured that the only Iraqis we felt we could work with had spent years in safe academic exile the West and in consequence had little credibility at home.


Lord Jim
Lord Jim
September 12, 2015 1:05 am

On the US/UK tank issue, one thing the US does better is its rolling overhaul and modernisation programme for all its equipment. With the M1A1 this was the M1A1 AIM, M1A1D and the M1A1HC. Around 1600 M1A1s have now been brought up to M1A2 standard with roughly 25% of the M1A2 fleet has been fully converted to the M1A2 SEP TUSK or M1A2 SEPv2 TUSK standards.

I know we upgraded the Tanks that took part in GWII but were those only UORs , with the kits put into storage, or were they disposed of post operations in Iraq? The full TUSK equivalent kits must have been for only for the few tanks retained in Iraq after initial operations.

Regarding a rolling maintenance and upgrade programme, we simply do not do thing to the same degree, though we do have the capability. The fact that although the CA2 need modernising but there are little or no funds to do so shines a light on this. With a large part of the CA2 fleet in storage, surely money could be found to bring these up to a more modern standard, we only need two regiments (120) worth for a maximum deployment anyhow, with a single regiment needed for most deployments (60).

On the nation building issue, I strongly believe this is not something the west should really do. In fact the west attempts to rebuild nations and especially their militaries have seen pretty poor results going as far back a Vietnam. Nation rebuilding should be the job of the UN regardless of whether the action that brought down the old regime was sanctioned by the UN. Countries with similar cultural backgrounds should take the lead in this. the argument s for the west to be the force for the immediate action and then withdrawing is becoming stronger and stronger. We would still need to provide support in areas such as ISTAR and possibly logistics, but in the middle east countries like Jordan, the UAE, Oman, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran have a part to play.

Jeremy M H
September 12, 2015 2:51 am
Reply to  Obsvr

What is interesting with the M-109 upgrades going on is that they are automotively designed to carry another 15,000 pounds of weight they don’t have now. It also has the electronic capacity of he NLOS which lets you do more with it later if you want. Basically as far as I can tell they have built something on which they could put the relevant parts from Crusader and NLOS later if they want.

That being said I think the most important developments for artillery in the past decade plus are things like Excalibur, sensor fuzed weapons and most recently the relatively cheap GPS fuze you can insert in the nose of a shell.

September 12, 2015 7:06 am

I’d agree that SFM should dramatically change the effectiveness of arty against armour, however, until it is demonstrated in a real war we won’t know. I have a nagging suspicion that getting the shells into the right place at the right time is going to be a challenge, there’s reasonable hope for planned targets, providing they are planned in the right place, relatively easy in some terrain not so easy in others. For unplanned targets I’d say the is a fighting chance of armies like UK and Germany getting it, but no chance of the US Army or USMC doing so (their response times are just too long).

For destruction of point targets I’d say leave it to GMLRS, it delivers a bigger bang.

The primary role of field arty remains suppression of hostile forces (sustained as long as necessary) to facilitate action by manoeuvre forces. This is something that can really only be done by field arty. Air cannot do it, and the dispersion of naval gunfire means it is generally unsafe to use in such a role (actually one of the things that some of my friends learnt in the FI campaign is that naval gunfire is pretty hopeless for a variety of reasons (unreliable, all over the place like a mad woman’s s**t, etc)).

September 12, 2015 7:22 am

The other thing about AS90 is that it reflects the lessons of the deficiencies in M109 (and Abbot, M107 and M110 come to that). Starting with the lack of an aux gene (SP guns use a lot of power, keeping the btys topped up by running the main engine is a really crap idea). The antique two man laying beloved by the US Army was of course overtaken by electronic sights.

September 12, 2015 7:37 am

@GNB, was about to push the + button, but then I came to the Arab regimes and the UN

It was the Bush seniors advisors who pointed out that if you remove Iraq as a powerful nation state from the scene (two scenariors there: neutered, or disintegrating), there would be nothing to maintain the regional balance against Iran.

The Junior, of course, had no such advisors (or did not listen), and here we are now.

The big mistake was not to include helicopters in the no-fly of Saddam’s forces. Had he not had use of them, he would have fallen, and we would have a different M. East as of now.

September 12, 2015 7:59 am

@ Jeremy, interesting to hear those capacity indicators about the M109A7. It also shares a lot of components with Bradley (which now seems to have increased its longevity) and is ordered with protected ammo carriers, with the two vehicles connecting while the crews stay under cover (NBC must be factored in, not just splinters from counter-battery fire).
– as Obsvr says, only field artillery can do the sustained bit (but not, if the resupply aspects are not thoroughly considered)

September 12, 2015 9:47 am

@Jeremy & Obsvr

While I am impressed with the Excaliber, I also have a suspicion that as a round, usage of it would be a bare minimum due to cost and availability. The usage of exotic rounds on a battlefield, while effective, has always ended up taking a back seat to the cheap cost and mass producability of the plain vanila version of ammunition. No point having a few super effective rounds which will only last you about a day or so in combat when you can use cheap and plentiful normal rounds that you can fire till the cows come home.

Slight nitpick on a word choice, 227mm don’t do point targets, they are area weapons. As in 100m x 100m area weapons. I don’t ever recall a 227mm capable of picking out and specifically destroying a single item like a tank. At least not without removing a lot of the surrounding area as well.

September 12, 2015 10:15 am

There is one statement form the article that has me confused

‘Above all, a renewed dedication to NATO is essential’

In what way do we need to renew our dedication to NATO? Have we not continued to play a very large role in all of NATO’s operations since the end of the cold war? We have supplied large contingents of military manpower and equipment in all 3 domains in support of NATO operations.

For IFOR the United Kingdom supplied 13,000 troops, plus 3,000 regional support (which included a Div HQ), which was pretty much equal to the US, not to mention the large RAF and Navy contributions.

We then followed with supplying another sizable contingent in terms of manpower, equipment and command in all three domains for operations in Kosovo, by way of an example

‘the Kosovo Force (KFOR) in which the UK played a particularly active role; for example KFOR’s
first commander came from British Armed Forces and was supported by an estimate 10,500 UK troops representing nearly a fifth of the total number of KFOR troops 1999.’ Report 07 2013.pdf

All of the above was done while still maintaining the resources required for our own national responsibilities and requirements such as the FI, BOTS and Op Banner and supporting ongoing operations in Iraq and the ME and also Bosnia.

Plus we are all aware of the contribution made by ourselves to the NATO mission in Afghanistan in which we were second only to the US in terms of the military component alone.

If he is suggesting that because we are only supplying 400 odd pers to the ongoing mission in Afghan as an indication of the UK’s commitment to NATO then the author is clutching at straws to make his argument. The NATO members who should be contributing what amounts to a reduced battalion of pers are the members such as Portugal and Belgium who have not got the capacity of other members to deploy and sustain a sizeable military capability outside of NATO borders on enduring operations.

September 12, 2015 10:28 am

‘Slight nitpick on a word choice, 227mm don’t do point targets’

Ever heard of the GMLRS 60Km sniper?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 12, 2015 10:55 am

The result in Iraq would have been no different. We fundamentally fail to understand the mentality of the region. We become horrified at the behaviour of dictators so we remove them thus creating the vacuum that allows groups like ISIS to operate.
If we had left Saddam where he was we would not be where we are today.
Sometimes we have to do the wrong thing for the right reasons like Libya but nobody can be daft enough to think that our ME adventures have made the uk or our citizens safer.

Jeremy M H
September 12, 2015 11:04 am
Reply to  Obsvr


I believe that is why the power systems of the M-109 are bing overhauled in the updated variant. there are no doubt deficiencies in the system that had to be addressed compared to the most modern systems. And the 7 doesn’t tick all the boxes as it still uses the same gun. But from what’s can understand that will now be the only limiting factor in the system. The ditched the hydraulic laying system for electic. They built in the weight margin for something heavier. At some point in the future my guess is you see a turret swap on the system for a new gun. When that happens will be driven by budgets and threats. It is clear that they are building that into their long term plans though.

Jeremy M H
September 12, 2015 11:23 am
Reply to  Observer


I think the Xm-1156 is significantly more important than the Excalibur long term. It cost significantly less and as production of it ramps up it should bend the cost curve down. The Excalibur will be useful in small numbers for long range targets but the 1156 has a good chance to get cheap enough to be used as a general artillery shell. Australia bought like 72 per gun already and it isn’t in full rate production yet.

To me Excalibur is old news. Far more interested in the 1156.

September 12, 2015 11:47 am

“Ever heard of the GMLRS 60Km sniper?”

Words fail me at the amount of misunderstanding this sentence implies.
DN. When you call for a strike by a 227mm, you *CANNOT* and I repeat *CANNOT* designate a specific target to destroy. You give them a 100×100 MGR and plaster an area. That is an *area* target, not a point target. Just because people use certain catchphrases to describe something does not make the usage of it similar. For example, the 227 is also called the “Brigade Cmd’s shotgun” according to the media. Does that mean the commander is going to fire it at a target >100m from him?


I have to admit I have not been following on the XM-1156. I’ll go take a look at it.

September 12, 2015 12:10 pm

‘Words fail me at the amount of misunderstanding this sentence implies.’

Myself included, I was 10Km out!

While your researching XM-1156 I’ll give you a start on the GMLRS for you to research as well.

‘The GMLRS Unitary is an approved Army requirement that provides the user with a capability to destroy critical point targets that require low collateral damage. The program complements GMLRS area precision with a GMLRS point target capability’

September 12, 2015 12:53 pm

Observer, I think DN was making a good-natured joke as GMLRS happens to be of 227 (you were thinking in narrow terms, tube artillery only).

Here’s about Jeremy’s favoured option (I haven’t seen the comparative costs):
“PGK is a global positioning system guidance kit with fuzing functions that enhances the U.S. Army’s conventional stockpile of 155mm high explosive M549A1 and M795 cannon artillery projectiles to less than 50 meters CEP, regardless of range to the target. Soldiers install the PGK fuze into the fuze well of conventional 155 mm high explosive M549A1 and M795 cannon artillery projectiles, replacing the standard fuze. This allows troops to turn their conventional artillery rounds into “smart” munitions.”

PLUS: 5 secs into its flight it assesses itself whether it will hit more than three times out (3 x 50m). If the probability for 50m is 50%, as a scientist you canturn the 150m into standard deviations, and on that basis into the percentage of rounds “wasted” due to this “safe” option.
– btw, the 50m and the 50% are from field tests, not out of the thin air

Jeremy M H
September 12, 2015 1:47 pm

What I like most about it is that it has a bit of dispersion to it. If you don’t need the accuracy and are firing blind for effect then use the cheap fuze. If you have good info on what you want to hit you can put in the precision fuze and go to work. I retain the option to just shoot cheap shells if I need to. But at any moment I can be much more precise and deadly if given the correct targeting info.

September 12, 2015 2:19 pm

Actually ACC, I was thinking about HIMARS.

DN, tell me how does a 227mm rocket guide itself to, for example, a tank or a bunker? It is a GPS guided round, it does not track onto specific targets. Unless the target is a building of course, but that is because the building *IS* the area. You give them the MGR and they fire the round onto the location. You do *not* lase and the round does not go after specific items. No IR, no millimeter band radar, no EO. How is it going to track on a specific object? Tell me about it instead of showing me a sales brochure?

September 12, 2015 2:48 pm

TD, does the RA use an 8 digit or a 10 digit MGR? I suspect 10 digit, but even that is a 50x50m area. If it did tag a well, I’d say that it was sheer luck. Or very high volume of fire. Or they just used a delayed fuse, let the round bury itself, then detonate and buried the target.

A 50m x 50m square isn’t really my definition of a point target, unless it happens to be a building, which is probably why the marketing experts spin it as capable of “point targets”. 50m x 50m is more of an area target than a point target.

September 12, 2015 3:28 pm


I never mentioned lasing or striking a moving target, you claimed that a 227mm rocket was an area weapon only and I pointed out the GMLRS which has been used for precision strike on operations. In addition an 8 fig grid ref will give you 10m accuracy on a 1:50000 map, not sure what the Fire Support Team (FST) use but I presume it offers greater accuracy.

September 12, 2015 4:34 pm

1:50000 is not the limiting factor (that’s what I use on my hikes); satellite imaging can be blown out to any scale (as long as the target can be distinguished. But how do you work out the grid, from existing sources, by subdividing it?
– not sure, sounds like a simple algorithm, as long as you can anchor the image to known coordinates

September 12, 2015 5:42 pm

1:50,000 map
1mm: 50,000mm
1mm: 5,000cm
1mm: 50m

That is about as far as you can resolve on a 1:50,000 map. Of course you can do the 0.5 of a mm thing, but that gets you to an estimate 25m. IIRC, that would be the 8 digit MGR for the 50m x 50m.

Of course we also have the 1:25,000 map, that one is not for fire though, more for navigation/planning.

DN, there are different definitions of “precision”. A 155mm dropping within 10m of a target is precise. A 5.56mm dropping about 10m from a target is a wall-eyed shooter. I did a check, the US uses an 8 digit MGR system. The 227 can hit a “killbox”, it can’t hit a specific target, moving or stationary. You call for fire on co-ordinates, not items. You “describe” the target for round selection, you don’t describe it for tracking and aiming.

Run through the process. How do you mark the target for the battery? By going “Gunner, Tank!” or by an 8 digit map grid reference? You ask me, I’ll tell you I cannot get the round closer than 50m precision because that is the limit of the process and the system is not set up to do the 10th digit 0 or 5 estimate system.

September 12, 2015 5:51 pm

Oh, BTW, those who have been tracking the maths, you might notice that the MGR areas I have been giving is half that of my quoted 100m x 100m. This is because of CEP, the round will not land spot on in the middle of the location.

September 12, 2015 6:17 pm

I think we are having two parallel discussions here:

“Of course we also have the 1:25,000 map, that one is not for fire though, more for navigation/planning”
– when I got my int’l cerificate in orienteering (at the age of 11), most competitions were on 1:10 000

We are not talking maps, but interrelating a live (image from a device, be it a satellite, Male, hand-launched UAV only doing 10 km and then dying) feed to a map coordinates, so that the track, identify, fire cycle will complete in time to produce results. Leaving all static targets acquired through pattern-of-life analysis, and the like, aside.

September 12, 2015 6:36 pm

I thought we were talking about the inability of a 227mm GPS/non-GPS rocket to hit a “point target” smaller than 100m x 100m. Which I do admit is tangentially related to the scale of the maps used.

Peter Elliott
September 12, 2015 6:52 pm

Thought experiment Observer: if you recorded the GPS co-ordinates of your own slit trench, then withdrew from it, saw it occupied by the enemy, and called down fire on those co-ordinates, would the rocket hit?

September 12, 2015 7:34 pm

It’ll hit “somewhere”. +/- 100m. The blast radii is often big enough to make such concerns a bit moot, but for a trench? They’ll probably use a delayed fuse, so the round buries itself in the ground then explodes. This will cause the trench to collapse and to put it in the words of a friend of mine, do a “live burial”. That is actually how they handle bunkers, they cause the structure to collapse from groundshock. Of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat, but delayed fuses for such structures are most likely. Same for “point target” buildings, pierce the building, explode inside.

BTW, don’t be anywhere near. Think the danger-close range for that is about 2km?

September 12, 2015 8:00 pm

GPS coordinates: I have tried myself, walking around and through a building that I had marked with coordinates much earlier. Within 5 mtrs all the time.
– the new, four -way antennas claim 2 mtrs
– why is 4 ways important? The more satellites you get the fix from, the more meters it shaves off from the error (which really is variance; who knows the zero point for the right answer?)

So the whole map scale is tangential; you may still want to check against them, though,before calling in the strike (would not want it to fall on yourself?)

September 12, 2015 8:16 pm

BTW, the 2 mtrs is on commercial (new Garmin) gadgets. GPS is controlled by US military, they might have another level available.
– I have opted for a GLONASS compatible device; the Chinese are busy putting their own up (literally, into space), for obvious reasons

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 12, 2015 8:24 pm

As long as you are relying on satellites then whoever owns them can input an error, that is where the old Military being more accurate than civilian came from. military sets had the crypto built in to eliminate the error.
Then people came up with the idea of ground stations of known position, if you have one certain fixed feed then that can be used to minimise the error from the satellites, either deliberate or caused by the fact they are in space and moving.
This is more difficult to achieve in open Ocean although there are satellite based wide area augmentation systems.

September 12, 2015 8:52 pm

TD, I do not doubt they used it against wells. What I doubt is that they are so accurate and maneuverable as to drop straight into the hole. Most likely the round was set to penetrate and groundburst, and when you are talking a warhead that size, close enough is good enough. Do you have a reference so that I can get a better read on the conditions for the shoot?

September 13, 2015 5:27 am

So the US Army has at last got to where the Royal Artillery (and Bundeswehr) were 20 years ago, still better late than never.

@ TD
Mensuration for PMs such as GMLRS is demanding but as you rightly point out it is achievable. Not sure about wells, my understanding was that it was a bit smaller than that implies, basically the human entry hole into one of the big underground irrigation canals that are found in Helmand. The other thing about UK use of GMLRS in Afg is that RA developed some very efficient and fast call for fire procedures, eve these may have been subsequently copied by the US Army (who are not noted for their fast and slick gunnery procedures – talk to anyone who served in the AMF(L) arty, never mind various operational theatres).

Jeremy M H
September 13, 2015 1:23 pm

Setting aside all the wonderful lessons that we surely learn from you guys you are right that the self propelled artillery was technologically not where others were. But it is also a much larger expense and fleet to deal with than the vastly cut down British and German artillery establishments from the Cold War.

Rather than spending money on new SPH the US instead picked up around 1,000 M-777’s and 350 or so HIMARS systems. In what is going on now and likely in the area the US is focusing those systems and guided rounds are more important than spending billions on a brand new SPH.

It really just comes down to where limited resources get spent really. The upgrade path the SPH is on now seems quite sensible to me for a large fleet that has a questionable mission set unless you are going to put a couple armored divisions on the ground in Eastern Europe. I am actually kind of glad they haven’t gotten caught up in a pissing contest there to demand the latest and greatest. The fleet needs upgraded for life extension purposes and the upgrade will make it clearly capable of taking on a larger cannon and more automated handling system later if that is what is necessary. The necessary cannon has been developed multiple times for the Crusader and NLOS-C as have the automated loading systems if that becomes something really needed.

The US Military has often been guilty of trying to match/exceed every capability out there. It is nice when they finally make a decision to make due with good enough because funds should be spent elsewhere on more crucial projects.