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Priorities and Options for SDSR 2015 – Other Sovereign Territories



The only UK sovereign territory that appears to be under any potential threat remains the Falkland Islands.

Argentina regularly re-states its claims on the Islands.  However, its air force and navy are much depleted compared to 1982 with no aircraft carriers and obsolescent combat aircraft.  This could change quite quickly as they are trying to buy more modern fighter aircraft.

The established Falklands defence forces of the equivalent of two Infantry Companies (one regular and one local Self Defence Force) plus some artillery and SAMs, four Typhoon swing-role fighters, one A330 Voyager aerial tanker, one transport aircraft (soon to be an A400 Atlas), two land based SAR helicopters, one destroyer/frigate, one patrol vessel and one icebreaker are still a sufficient garrison.

The most important factor remains the ability of the Joint Rapid Reaction Force, and especially the RAF, to reinforce the fighter force with the assistance of its aerial tankers and to ferry troops with its transport fleet.  The Royal Navy’s ability to deploy an attack submarine at short notice is also significant.  Force levels are currently more than adequate to do this.

To provide a minimum effective defence of the Falkland Islands requires:

  • 2 Infantry Companies
  • 4 Typhoon swing-role fighters
  • 1 A330 Voyager multi role tanker transport
  • 1 A400 Atlas medium transport aircraft
  • 2 land based SAR helicopters
  • 1 destroyer/frigate, 1 patrol vessel and 1 icebreaker plus
  • support from the Joint Rapid Reaction Force.

Falklands Air Defence – the white area is covered by Typhoons from RAF Mount Pleasant and the blue by carrier based F-35Bs.

Falklands Air Defence

Should a repeat of the 1982 naval task force be required then having two large QE class aircraft carriers and a range of amphibious ships available would be absolutely essential.  Any task force would need to be able to defend itself against land based air forces while landing troops on a potentially hostile shoreline.  Relying on just one aircraft carrier would make the operation extremely vulnerable to air attack.

In this planning scenario one of the QE carriers would operate three F-35B Squadrons – one would be a Naval Air Squadron for fleet air defence/anti-shipping and two would be RAF Squadrons primarily for CAS/SEAD and land strike.  The second QE carrier would operate one Naval Air Squadron of F-35Bs for fleet air defence/anti-shipping but would primarily operate transport helicopters and attack helicopters.  This carrier would support the Royal Navy’s full amphibious forces.

Capable amphibious forces would be the cornerstone of any naval task force.

HMS Albion 8

RFA Lyme Bay LPD(R)

Defensive escort would be provided by nine destroyers/frigates, their maritime helicopters and three attack submarines.  Long distance support for the task force would also be provided by Maritime Patrol Aircraft from Ascension Island with the assistance of A330 Voyager aerial tankers.

To provide a minimum effective naval task force requires:

  • 2 QE class aircraft carriers
  • 4 F-35B Squadrons – 2 fleet air defence/anti-shipping and 2 CAS/SEAD/land strike
  • 2 amphibious transport docks
  • 3 landing ships
  • Special Forces and Royal Marines Commandos plus elements of the Air Assault Brigade and an Infantry Brigade
  • 1 Apache AH Squadron
  • 1 Wildcat Marines AH Squadron
  • 1 Chinook HC Squadron
  • 2 Merlin HC Squadrons
  • 3 attack submarines
  • 9 destroyers/frigates
  • 4 Merlin HMA Squadrons
  • 2 Wildcat HMA Squadrons
  • 1 Maritime Patrol Squadron and
  • 1 A330 Voyager aerial tanker Squadron.

In the event of a major conflict developing in Europe the Typhoon Falklands Flight would be ferried with the support of the A330 Voyager aerial tanker to join with the Test & Evaluation Squadron in its deployment to Poland, Norway or Cyprus.

The rest of the series

1 – Introduction

2 – Defence of the UK

3 – Other Sovereign Territories

4 – NATO

5 – A Southern or Middle Eastern Threat

6 – An Eastern and Northern Threat

7 – Global Intervention

8 – Land Command 2025; Appendix 1 – Army 2025

9 – Naval Command 2025; Appendix 2 – Royal Navy 2025

10 – Air Command 2025; Appendix 3 – RAF 2025

11 – Conclusion – The Options for Change; Appendix 4 – An Abundance of Riches: MoD Procurement 2015-25

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35 Responses

  1. Andy,

    No mention of the RFA – A force this size over the distance required without the political support of our NATO allies (as per 1982) would require the whole of our RFA to be allocated.

    The force proposed just does not make sense I am afraid and is missing key logistics, Our carriers and fleet need stores and refuelling that you have not even mentioned.

  2. @Pacman27
    Thank you. You are quite correct that any major naval task force would need the full support of the RFA and its tankers. The most vital thing here is the MARS programme with three solid replenishment ships needed in addition to the four new oil tankers. Hopefully an order for these will feature in the SDSR.

  3. This is why I think for the UK, they need a Multi Role Frigate on rotation in the Falkands and they should consider keeping the Tornado’s in the Falkands and free up the Typhoon for the UK. I would permanently put a Corvette and an OPV in the Falkands

  4. I would place a UAS/RPAS platoon/fight on the island–would save some fluel costs instead of having the SAR helos and A400M/C-130 from performing recce. Or have them onbard HMS Clyde.

  5. Falklands defence is more than adequate, especially since Argentina’s military is totally non functional. Angthing else stationed down there would be a waste of our precious little resources. I can’t see there being a real threat there for years and years.

    Providing we have enough escorts the UK will be able to assemble a couple of serious naval task groups in coming years although as pacman correctly points out they require serious support. The first half of that support is well under way, we just need some clarification on the solid support ship now.

  6. I cannot agree with you that the only British territory under threat is the Falkland Islands.

    Argentina may have all the “claims” they want on the Falklands and South Georgia, but there is very little they can do about it, diplomatically, or militarily. There doesn’t seem to be an actual strategy on how they might conquer and colonise the South Atlantic territories, mostly talk and bluster to distract the masses from their own problems.

    This does not mean that HMG should abandon the defences of the Falklands – a credible deterrent should be maintained – especially with China very eager to challenge British/American influence in the South Atlantic by seeking to establish a naval base in Namibia, satellite tracking facilities in Argentina and the possibility of them supplying corvettes (equipped with towed array sonars, to challenge the real Falklands deterrent – our submarines, or the threat of one nearby) and possibly fighter aircraft, to Argentina – these are all things HMG should be paying extra attention to.

    However, the territory currently most under threat is Gibraltar. Perhaps not militarily or in a traditional sense, but there is a real strategy behind Spain’s attempts to seize the Rock. The reconquest of Gibraltar is very high on the Spanish state’s list of diplomatic/foreign policies. They have been waging an economic war against Gibraltar for several years now by attempting to discredit or destroy its economy (via the border, constant unsupported claims of it being a tax haven, investigations into Gibraltarians who own properties in Spain, pressure on cross-border workers, port & tourism etc, etc).

    There is a united front from various Spanish government departments with the single goal of taking possession of Gibraltar. Just as an example, the military/paramilitary/law enforcement agencies are all united on denying that Gibraltar has any territorial waters, that drug smuggling is only because of Gibraltar, denying/crying out over UK/USA/NATO use of the naval or air facilities, etc. The Telegraph had a poll on their website a couple of years ago asking whether the public thought Gibraltar should be handed to Spain – it was flooded with pro-Spanish votes, coming from inside the Spanish MoD.

    Likewise, they have no qualms about using the international community or any international organisations they are a member of to pursue their “claim”. They are currently holding the entire EU ransom over the “European Single Sky” project as they seek to exclude Gibraltar from legislation it is already a part of – Gibraltar enjoying EU membership since Britain’s entry in 1973, 13 years prior to Spain’s entry in 1986. They do not allow NATO/allied warships to dock in Spanish ports if they have previously sailed from Gibraltar, likewise they do not allow military aircraft to fly over Spanish airspace on the way to or from Gibraltar – adding to the cost to the UK taxpayer – whereas Russian warships are free to refuel at their port in Ceuta. They even managed to register part of Gibraltar’s territorial waters as their own protected maritime space with the EU – while Britain failed to notice this was happening and was too late to stop it.

    Yesterday, Spain took over the presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the next month, with the Spanish foreign minister using the occasion to immediately call for bilateral sovereignty negotiations with the UK – against the wishes of the Gibraltarians.

    There is a concentrated effort from the Spanish state against British sovereignty of Gibraltar – which makes it a threat, and they are much better placed than Argentina to make moves towards their goal – especially as their doesn’t seem to be much of a strategy, or even awareness of the issue at hand from Whitehall.

  7. I think the problem is more the numbers of hulls you have listed.

    Your basically saying we need the whole of the royal navy involved, other than the destroyers/frigates.

    The chances of having 2 carriers, 2 assault ships, and 3 landing ships ( assume you meant he bay class) all available at one time and not other wise occupied, seems low.

    Bright side, you are only after 9 out of our 19 frigates/destroyers. However that number needs to be looked at a bit closer, as they serve different roles. My guess we would need at least 3 of our 6 destroyers to provide adequate air cover to the 2 carriers, aux ships and landing force, plus some sort of early warning picket.

  8. On the Gibraltar issue, it’s not a defence issue, as Spain is never going to invade it.

    Personally I would suggest just giving it back to Spain, after all most of the Spanish beach cities are already packed with British expats, I am pretty sure the residents of Gibraltar would be fine under Spanish control.

    But if we decide not to, Spain will do nothing other than be a little annoying on the border and that won’t change if we station 100,000 troops there or none.

  9. @Steve. We Brits live in a democratic country, I guess you will have to ask the Gibratarians, as we asked the Scots. If they agree, then so be it. Spain probably needs to work on that.

  10. @Steve

    forgive me for being blunt… but its not a case of ‘if we decide’ … it’s the people of Gibraltar that have the right to self determination [at the last ‘referundum’, in 2002, 98.48 of those who voted didn’t want Spain to have shared sovereignty of their territory…]

    and i expect my {UK} government to defend that right…

  11. @steve

    Consensus here I think, if the people of Gibraltar wish to be British then so be it, same applies to the Falklands. Personally I think the UK should be taking a much more aggressive approach towards Spain on the issue.

  12. Good point. I certainly wouldn’t agree with forcing them to be Spanish, but I don’t think we should be closed to another way.

    I agree that Spain isn’t doing themselves any favours currently, I think if they opened up towards Gibraltar, and accepted the rights of the residents and really worked towards integrating them, they might have a chance of talking the people into accepting Spanish rule.

    I don’t see the reason for not at least discussing options with Spain and seeing if a solution like northern Ireland might be workable. Obviously we need to work with the Gibraltar people.

    The Falkland’s is different, Argentina don’t accept the rights of the residents to stay in their homes and wants to push everyone out, plus not to mention the history is difficult post war.

  13. @Steve

    Your mindset is quite frankly disgusting.

    Why should Gibraltarians EVER want to, or have to be Spanish, when they have never been a Spanish people, have never been ruled from Spain, and Spain has only ever been an adversary?

    Yes, many may have Spanish ancestry – but don’t forget that it’s mixed in with British (English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh), Maltese, Italian, Portuguese, etc, etc and the people of Gibraltar have never been under the rule of the Spanish state and there is no reason why they ever should be.

    Every aspect of Gibraltar’s legal system, parliament, judiciary, economy, business practices, education system, healthcare, etc, is based on British systems, not Spanish, and therefore every aspect of Gibraltarian life would have to change were it to be subjected to Spanish rule.

    Your argument about British expats is ridiculous. It is completely different to move to a country and live there as an expat to having your homeland taken away and given to someone else and every aspect of your life having to change as a result.

    When the Spanish military is being used as a tool by the Spanish government to exercise jurisdiction over something that does not belong to them, and Britain is responsible for the defence and external affairs of Gibraltar, it is a defence issue.

    No, Spain is not going to invade Gibraltar, but there still needs to be a deterrent. Gunboat diplomacy is the only thing these people understand. Just look how incursions into British Gibraltar waters decline when there is a substantial Royal Navy presence on the Rock.

    Spain lost any chance of winning over Gibraltarians when Franco became belligerent (using the same language towards them as the Spanish government does today) and ended up closing the border.

    The only way they can ever win over the people of Gibraltar, against every ounce of logic, is through a slow process of colonisation – and you are naive if you think Spain has not been attempting this. In fact, the current government’s reactionary politics has probably halted their progress for a few years, as they decided to close down the Cervantes Institute in Gibraltar (opened as one of the previous administration’s conditions after the Cordoba Agreements of 2006, which only exist in foreign countries – the current government cannot accept that Gibraltar is a foreign country – and designed to influence and erode Gibraltarian language and culture).

    This is where the UK fails.

    If you think that Argentina and Spain are any different, you are again being naive. You obviously have not heard the kind of language used by Spanish politicians, the media or a large section of Spanish society when referring to Gibraltar or Gibraltarians.

    There is no doubt that if Spain were ever to gain Gibraltar, Gibraltarians would become second-class citizens in their own homeland.

  14. @Steve

    17 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, we are all still waiting to see if a solution like Northern Ireland might actually be workable in Northern Ireland.

  15. Im sorry but the only equipment necessary to defend the islands in a sub equipped with tomahawk.

  16. Every conversation I have ever had with a gibraltarian has revolved around A) they like Britain, b) like the status Gib has thank you c) dont like the Spanish government a lot….. D) are in most ways culturally british. There is no significant part of the population that wishes to change and become part of Spain. Spain is using all non military methods It can to bully the population and make life hard to push them into accepting Spainish sovereignty. In my view it stinks, and the UK government should be kicking up a lot more and making things unpleasant for the Spanish government whenever it can, Governents should stick up for their populations even if that means playing ther dirty politics game.

    Northern irland was mentioned, It’s nothing like Northern Ireland, in which a part of the population ( the bit that was not transplanted,a long time ago I know, but they have long memories) has always felt itself to be ” invaded” and to have suffered what we today would describe ethnic cleansing. They therefore will never be happy with even a modicum of british rule, the other bit of the population cannot ever be happy unless they have british rule. The Republic and UK are stuck trying to manage this, they do not undermine each other’s sovereign power ( now anyway) although private citizens sometimes still do.

  17. @Steve: why should we *ever* give a foreign country part of our dominions against the wishes of our own inhabitants, especially since the same country explicitly gave up it’s demands more than 300 years ago? Such reverse imperialism helped birth the Falklands war, as well as being evidence of a fairly pathetic self hatred.

  18. Ok, maybe giving them it was a bit extreme. I am a firm believer in the right of the people, if they vote to not to be part of Spain then they can stay separate.

    However, I don’t buy that they want to be British, they want to be Gibraltarian. If they honestly wanted to be part of the UK, they would adopt British law and pay the same taxes as we do, etc. Same with Guernsey, etc, they want to say they are British but without actually forming part of the union.

    I just don’t think we should waste tax payer money defending these rocks (Guernsey, etc the same), if they don’t pay for it.

    Just my 2 pennies, if they want to be full British, then accept our law, our tax, etc and then we should defend them to the hilt, just like the rest of the UK. If they don’t want to be fully british then why should my tax money go towards defending it.

  19. @Steve: you’re preaching to the converted here. All in favour of the territories being treated in the same way as the French do theirs: they elect a couple of MP’s, adopt UK law etc

  20. A UAV in Gibraltar would help as well, more to patrol the straits.

    The Spanish have many North African enclaves. Why would they want Gibraltar?

  21. I agree the number of escorts listed for a task force is woefully small – as people have mentioned before, protecting supply lines is as important as protecting the HUVs themselves. Whilst the Argentine navy is basically screwed, they are starting to get some movement on their SSK force.

  22. I think the current “land” defence of our BOTs is adequate given the threat level. Deploying company sized land forces, backed by ISR / long ranged radar (and SAMs) and an operational airstrip to surge reinforcements is enough.

    What isn’t being discussed though is the protection of BOT EEZs – this for me is a massive gap. I think EEZ disputes and territory grabs is going to increase as technology for extracting minerals etc increase. For this the UK must forward base more OPVs with UAV assets, combined with long range MPA assets to ensure that our EEZ claims are policed properly – which is in turn backed up by SSN and Task Group assets if escalation is required.

  23. @Steve
    1. What’s wrong with being BOTH Gibraltarian AND British? Just as the Welsh, Scots, English, Irish, Indians, Pakistanis, Afro-Caribbeans are also British but also maintain their cultural identity.

    2. Being British and being a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are two separate things. Just because Gibraltar, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and all the others do not form part of the UK – no taxation without representation – does not mean the people are not a British people, united by a shared culture and history.

    3. You obviously seem to have no idea about Gibraltar or the other Overseas Territories, the Crown Dependencies or the UK’s constitutional relationship with them.

    Therefore, you may not be aware that from 1969 to 1972 the party in office in Gibraltar was the Integration with Britain Party – which, as the name suggests, worked towards becoming a part of the UK. The UK government rejected any possibility of Gibraltar’s integration into the UK with the issue of the Hattersley Memorandum in 1976 – on the basis of not hurting Spain’s feelings – which effectively killed off most of the support from the public with regards to integration (although there is still some support for it today). This both forced and allowed Gibraltar to create its own sociopolitical identity – something that cannot be undone because you feel Gibraltarians aren’t sufficiently British. The UK did the very same thing to Malta in the 50s.

    4. The defence of Gibraltar more than pays for itself due to its strategic importance as a forward base for the UK’s military/foreign policies, and within the Western alliance. It is evident that the current force levels/assets in Gibraltar are not for its defence.

    5. No taxation without representation. Gibraltar’s laws, tax systems, etc are based on British ones, but it remains a separate jurisdiction – which was Britain’s own doing, hardly the fault of Gibraltarians. You cannot expect a people who were forced through considerable hardship to form their own identity after being rejected by the “mother country”, and continuously used as a sacrificial lamb in the UK’s pursuit of relations with Spain, to accept the disbandment of all its institutions and the imposition of a colonial system.

    You really don’t get it, it’s not about “wanting” to be British – it is a fact that Gibraltarians ARE British, and there’s no changing that.

  24. It’s a silly discussion because things will never change. I would never agree with forcing the Gibralarians to do anything against their will.

    The British government tried to force the protectorates to stop being tax havens but priorities changed, after they kept stalling.

    I would like to see what the vote would be around staying British, if they were forced to pay their way and pay UK income tax (which is higher than Spanish) and whether they would prefer to be a separate country.

    Whilst I agree its a useful base, do we really need it in 2015, we have far more useful bases in malta and Cyprus, and the money would be better spent elsewhere.

    They are very different than Scotland, wales, and northern Ireland, since they accept full uk law (well Scotland almost full) and pay full rate of uk tax, have no limits on who can move there etc. Gibraltar opts into British law as it suits them and don’t pay their way towards the rest of the union and have immigration controls.

    I am not convinced they are ‘British’, but also not sure that they aren’t. It’s not a black and white answer.

  25. RE “Long distance support for the task force would also be provided by Maritime Patrol Aircraft from Ascension Island with the assistance of A330 Voyager aerial tankers.”
    – where is the St. Helena (hypothetically) in this? The Ascension airfield suffered serious congestion the last time around, and the current plans (not referring to the leading-in article here) are more air-centric than was the case before.

  26. Is the statement about Malta valid? I mean they were in a pickle with the developments in Libya and therefore co-operated, but there is no base as such?
    “Whilst I agree its a useful base, do we really need it in 2015, we have far more useful bases in malta and Cyprus, and the money would be better spent elsewhere.”
    – just as staging post, GIB is extremely well located
    – anyone who has walked across the runway can see that not much can be based their (and the naval base, including its power station, has been sold off in the main)

  27. Steve – I see you buy into the “tax haven” rhetoric – the reality is a bit different. Most of the BOTs have tax information exchange agreements in place with the UK (and thus indirectly with the USA and the rest of Europe) and have had for some years. Many implement more stringent KYC and AML procedures than British banks. I can go into detail, but it’s not really relevant to a defence related blog. Suffice to say, the biggest offenders are actually the ones throwing the accusations around. In fact, after the recent tax changes, the UK actually runs the risk of being labelled a “tax haven”

  28. I am liking Ambuscade172’s post and quote this:

    “Every aspect of Gibraltar’s legal system, parliament, judiciary, economy, business practices, education system, healthcare, etc, is based on British systems, not Spanish, and therefore every aspect of Gibraltarian life would have to change were it to be subjected to Spanish rule. ”

    I would just like to change it a bit:

    Every aspect of the UK’s legal system, parliament, judiciary, economy, business practices, education system, healthcare, etc, is based on historical British systems, not European, and therefore every aspect of UK life is changing now it is subjected to EU rule.

  29. There’s a reasonable amount of pre-positioned equipment and ammo in FI. Perhaps not insignificantly, the Rapiers are permanently manned.

  30. A Spanish diplomat was getting very angry on the radio a while back and citing the handing back of Hong Kong as a precedent and simply failing to accept or comprehend the difference between a lease and a deed ceding Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity.

    A very large portion of the salad crops grown by the Spanish come over here and British tourists a large contributor to their tourist industry. It must also be remembered that in a few years the number of Spanish speakers in the US is going to overtake the number of English speakers and this may lead to pressure from that direction. I’m not sure the next generation in this country gives a fig about this sort of issue.

    Why the EU accepted the over-the-top border controls is a mystery to me.

    Our response to incursions into Gibraltarian waters by Spanish vessels is either very restrained or spineless, depending on your view.

    Apart from basing a large chunk of the Royal Navy there, I recommend the government subsidise those “go to Spain for a fiver” offers run by The Sun: a few months of Sun readers in their Union Flag T-shirts and they will be offering us Toremolinos…

  31. Seems to me we could exploit the recent vote in Catalonia to put pressure on the Spanish over Gibraltar.

  32. A lot of Naivety about Crown Dependencies, British Overseas Territories, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom nations.

    Presumably you’re English and living in England.

    Feel free to ask a Welshman or a Scot to live by “UK” rules if they want to be in the “UK”. They’ll tell you to fuck off and live by Welsh/Scottish laws while you’re in Wales/Scotland.

    It’s the same score with the rest of the Islands (including the honorary ones like Gibraltar).

    We’re a country of countries.

    Each of us on our various Rocks likes our own Rock just how it is. We also like, sometimes begrudgingly, how easy it is to visit and get on with everyone on the Rocks next door or over the horizon, even if we wouldn’t want want to live on that other Rock.

    If the English, on their bit of the bigger Rock, want the other not-as-big-bits-of-Rocks to pay you some of our (very) hard earned money, let’s first talk about seats at Westminster.

    No taxation without representation after all, eh English?

  33. I’d be perfectly happy to see the remaing rocks send MPs to a UK Crown Parliament. It would make a ton of sense really.

    The obvious time to do it when the “English Home Rule Question” gets addressed and the spending departments which only now act only in England get put under the control of an “English Assembly”.

    That would leave the “UK Crown Parliament” (including all the rocks) to get Defence, Foreign Affairs, the Treasury and the Supreme Court. The Treasury has to go at UK level becuase someone has to hold the brief for economic stability and fiscal backing for the pound.

    Most of the time it would work in practice just like it does now EXCEPT on the rare occasions when when the English Ministry and UK Govt had politicially opposed majorities. I like to think our traditon of constiturional compromise could still sort it out and avoid US style gridlock.

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