Speech: Interesting times

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen. Can I say how delighted I am to be back at RUSI for my third and, most probably, final CDS Christmas Lecture. If I am still here in 12 months time, something has gone badly wrong with the succession planning and I need to re-look at my holiday cancellation insurance cover.

Inevitably, in choosing a subject for tonight’s talk, I thought that the outcome of the recent SDSR would dominate. But my working title for tonight is ‘interesting times’.

It is not that I felt the need to try to draw a bigger audience since the audience tonight flatters me with its interest. But to me, ‘interesting times’ captures the context in which the Review was held; it is probably the best strategic forecast of what lay ahead; and, I trust, will encourage some wider questions once I have finished my on-the-record remarks.

But I also wanted to exploit this opportunity to go beyond the capability headlines of the Review and to give you a broader sense of what it means for Defence and the Armed Forces over the coming years. As such it is, at least in part, a self-reflection on my own future legacy.


The context for the review we have just completed was in many respects a challenging one. I think that the challenge manifested itself in at least four ways.

First, was the complexity of the global security environment. An environment of greater danger, defined by increased instability and uncertainty; by a wider and more diverse range of threats, many of which were now more patent than latent; and by ever greater complexity in the nature of the relationships between countries which now sees a far greater diffusion of the ways in which power inter-acts. It is a far more difficult context in which to identify friend from foe; war from peace; or to properly situate the utility of military force.

Second, was the enduring aftermath of the global economic crisis which had led many countries to reduce Defence expenditure and which prompted the reaffirming 15 months ago, at the NATO Summit, in South Wales, of the NATO benchmark target of 2% of GDP for Defence expenditure. A target that, even six months ago, the UK had not yet re-committed to.

Third, I sense was a broader questioning of the enduring utility of much of the conventional arsenals of western countries; a sense amongst some commentators of the declining relevance of hard power in the context of the threats of the moment.

And fourth, was a parliamentary and the wider societal unease, borne of the experiences of Iraq and to some extent Afghanistan, with regard to the beneficial utility of Armed Force; particularly when used at strategic distance, in culturally alien places with uncertain strategic outcomes. A common line I have used over the past few years, is that the British Armed Forces have seldom been held in higher public esteem – but the purposes to which we have most recently been put, have never been more deeply questioned.

From that unpromising context – but maybe partly because of it – I think that the Defence Review has delivered a remarkably good outcome. The UK has looked itself in the mirror and decided it needed to do better.

The first concrete sign of that outcome was the political commitment last July to sustaining the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on Defence. That commitment alone meant that our Defence Review was going to be about betterment not decline.

But, taken together with earlier commitments to Nuclear Deterrence, to Carrier Operations and to sustaining military manpower, there was amongst the military a growing confidence that the UK government was committed to retaining a global role, to reasserting its strategic authority and, more widely, to recognising the need to respond to a security context more replete with risk.


So, as I say, the outcome of the Review itself was, I believe, a very good one. It has, I know, been well received by many of our Allies. It is one in which there was considerable input from outside Government. It saw unprecedented levels of mutual cooperation amongst close partners in its preparation, for which we were hugely grateful.

Specifically the Review broke old custom and new ground by presenting the Defence dimension of Security as an integrated part of a National Strategy serving national strategic objectives. In this respect it was not narrowly a Defence White Paper. An outcome I consider, wholly appropriate, for the complexity of challenges we face.

From a pure Defence perspective, I think that, perhaps inevitably, the financial and capability aspects of the Review stole many of the immediate headlines.

In capability terms the Review has allowed us to lift our level of equipment investment to £178Bn over the next 10 years. This, in turn, will allow us to plug many of the capability gaps that worried us, as well as investing in new capabilities. Let me quickly summarise the main capability choices we have made.

The first area I would emphasise is a range of capability that sits under the proponency of Joint Forces Command: primarily C4ISR, SF and Cyber related capabilities. A significant increase in UAVs – Twenty UK certified MQ 9 Reaper, which we will call Protectors; a £2Bn investment for SF enablement, particularly strategic insertion; additional SHADOW aircraft; a new high altitude, long endurance, UAV capability; more modern CIS; a new Joint Cyber and Electromagnetic activities group. Taken together with our ability to sustain a whole range of ISR capability bought as UORs for Afghanistan; this package significantly enhances Counter-Terrorist strike capability and improves the intelligence and understand function of more conventional operations.

The second area I would emphasise is maritime power projection. We have been able to formalise the commitment to operate both carriers, so that at least one is available 100 per cent of the time. We can now procure the afloat support shipping for the whole of the maritime enterprise; we can accelerate the purchase of F35Bs into the early 2020s; and we will buy nine P8 Maritime Patrol aircraft to make good one of the most concerning capability gaps of the last review. Taken together with the commitment to the Type 26 ASW frigate, this really does represent a renaissance in Maritime Power Projection.

­And just finally, the third area I would stress in capability terms is a further investment in hard power: here I would start with the commitment to Nuclear Deterrence through CASD; the commitment to 138 F35s in the lifetime of the JSF programme; the generation of two additional Typhoon squadrons; a refocusing of the Army back on the Divisional level of command and manoeuvre; the upgrade of our Apache and Chinook helicopter fleets; our investment in NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defence Architecture; and our ambition to set the deployable Joint Force 2025 at 50,000 servicemen and women: signifying a clean break from an Army optimised for enduring campaigns at the Brigade level.

I would say that the capability choices we have made were not random. Nor were they designed to accommodate Single Service interest or lobby group pressure of which there was very little. They were made in the context of assessing, ameliorating and tolerating risk. In a dangerous world, an appreciation of risk and its management over time is the only sensible gearing mechanism to make difficult choices possible when resources are finite.

But the choices were a careful balance of Counter Terrorist capability, hard power investment; and a clear recalibration to better meet some of the more diverse challenges of the age.

But, as I said at the start, I do not want to present the outcome of the Review to you in the simplistic terminology of equipment types and numbers. After all, this is a Think Tank not an Arms Convention; and I am a soldier not a salesman.

Rather I want to offer you five themes which I think better demonstrate the sophistication of the Review’s outcome and how we envisage the character of the future force and the Defence organisation that generates it. They are: Utility; Agility; Strategy; Innovation and Partnership.

These are the distinctive themes of the Review and I think they will probably need the greatest levels of energy, leadership, rigour and custodianship to realise. Collectively they are at least part of the response that I would make to the consistent and, I fear, sometimes unimaginative criticism of those who can only judge the competence and capability of Armed Forces through the input metric of platform and manpower numbers.

Again, I have not chosen these themes randomly. I have chosen them because, each in their own way represent a part of the strategic response to the bespoke security challenges of the age.

My first theme is utility

So, firstly, our security review demands that our forces have greater utility. In a typically UK way we have been spending much of this year (and last and next) in historic commemoration. The Battle of Agincourt 1415; the Battle of Waterloo 1815; Gallipoli 1915; and the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Such national events, when coupled with the recent experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan, burn into the public psyche the false idea that Armed Forces are predominantly about fighting wars.

But in truth Armed Forces should be much more about avoiding, preventing and deterring war; maintaining the stability of the world order so as to permit the exploitation of opportunity in pursuit of prosperity; whilst mitigating those recurring threats and security related crises which are the inevitable by-product of a world in which so many nations feel denied their sense of historic entitlement.

So as a nation we should better imagine ourselves as being in a permanent state of competition, constantly striving to retain or improve our comparative advantage in a challenging world. This, to me, is the context of the moment; and it is going to persist and intensify.

So the Review re-imagines the utility of the UK’s Armed Forces to a considerable extent. Instead of seeing them in a simple construct of either fighting wars or preparing for the next one, we intend to make more productive use of their wide utility. So, in future our Armed Forces will provide an increased contribution to countering terrorism and building stability overseas. We’ll work with Intelligence Agencies, Police and the Home Office more closely than ever before, building capacity to strike at terrorists globally before they can attack us, but also building our partners’ capabilities so that they can better deal with terrorism, radicalisation and extremism.

We will play a greater role in UN Peace Keeping Missions, for example in Somalia and South Sudan, in bolstering targeted capacity building, for example in Nigeria; and in making our physical commitment more enduring, for example in the Gulf.

Now many here will say that non-war fighting tasks have always been features of what our Armed Forces have done. But they have never been organised as a strategic endeavour in the context of achieving our most vital national interests: which have to be security and prosperity.

And critically the active demonstration of our increased utility and capability will also enhance our deterrent value. After all if a nation’s assumed willingness to commit to the use of force is only ever in the face of national survival, then we risk encouraging rather than deterring revisionist states and their own ambitions.

My second theme is agility

In order to service the demands of greater utility we also need to be more agile. We need agility of mind, of structure and of capabilities. We need this in order to manage the diversity of threats we face: from existential to insidious; from state sponsored asymmetry… the hybrid or new age warfare of Russia, to the sort of abhorrent terrorism we saw in Paris and Mali. From the threat of mass migration to the emerging threats of cyber war.

So our new Joint Force 2025 will require both flexibility and agility to operate across domains and threat diversity. At one end of the scale we need the demonstrable ability to deal with large scale conflict in order to fight or deter the most demanding scenarios. Hence a potent expeditionary force of around 50,000 personnel; based on a land division, a maritime task group and an expeditionary air group. And a better considered methodology for re-generation.

But within that force structure we also need to be able to deploy more quickly to manage a greater variety of threats or crises at smaller scale.

What the last few years has shown us is that governments increasingly want to have military options to a wide range of problems, both domestic and international. Not only are the military the security managers of last resort, we are often the first port of call for international rescue and domestic crisis.

Whether it is fighting Ebola, guarding the Olympics, providing options for multiple terrorist attacks domestically or searching for downed aircraft; governments want military options and they want them quickly.

So the force structure has to have inherent agility; the ability to meet multiple concurrency whilst being able to concentrate to generate capability at genuine scale.

This inherent requirement for agility of employment will place a significant demand on training, leadership and force generation. But the force structure has to be more productive rather than simply contingent.

And I also believe that the force structure needs to be able to draw on a far more diverse set of skills and competencies – many of which are not found in people who would ordinarily volunteer for the rigours of military service.

Hence we need to be a lot more sophisticated in how we use Reserves and Contractors to bring wider skills to the Whole Force. And in this context we plan to review the nature and flexibility of the terms and conditions of military service that we offer to the next generation of servicemen and women.

My third theme is strategic

This is shorthand for an understanding that, more often than not, even the most modest use of military capability sits in a strategic context and we increasingly need to accept that most of the threats we face cannot be resolved by military action alone, certainly not decisively. The idea that there are elements of military activity – for example the domain of operational art – which can remain hermetically sealed from wider government engagement and involvement, to me does not survive close scrutiny. Terrorism, Hybrid War, Compound Threats, War in the Information Age, all require sophisticated all-of-government approaches.

Military activity has to be concerted with all the levers of national power at the strategic level. Sometimes economic sanctions will be better at coercive effect than military deployments. Diplomacy, development aid and strategic information must all be harmonised in national and regional strategies that promote security, national interest and prosperity.

We must better recognise the power of a potent narrative. In the information age almost all acts of physical violence come with an on-line component, exploiting social networks to manipulate opinion and perception. The tactics employed by Russia in Ukraine, Estonia and Georgia for example, include combinations of information warfare, cyber activity, counter-intelligence, espionage, economic warfare and the sponsorship of proxies.

Daesh uses Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in 23 different languages, to prosecute its narrative. And our adversaries can act unconstrained by western policy, ethical and legal codes, to exploit and assault our vulnerabilities.

So across government, we need to organise even better to provide a harmonised response to the threats we face and the techniques of the age. And not always simply a response – but a pro-active element as well. The Review seeks to help provide that comprehensive instrument of full spectrum effects and capabilities.

My fourth theme is that of innovation

The exponential advance and proliferation of technology now allows nations to develop anti-access and area denial capabilities which threaten our technical advantage. We must have disruptive technologies to counter such threats. More widely, only through technical innovation, which properly harnesses the potential of robotics, micro processing, novel materials and unmanned flight, to name but the most obvious, will we be able to maintain technological advantage.

So the Review sees us shifting capability into new areas: Special Forces; Cyber Defence and Offence; Intelligence increasingly based on the exploitation of Big Data and Social Media. We will continue to prioritise Science and Technology by maintaining investment at a minimum of 1.2% of the Defence budget. We will also draw on expertise from private and academic sectors to develop new, potentially game changing, technologies. And we have found room to allocate up to £800m of new money purely for innovative propositions – ones which are truly transformative and which offer us the possibility of delivering future military capabilities in radically more effective and efficient way. Maintaining a decisive edge, whilst starting to break us out of the simple pattern of life-cycle replacement and capability emulation: a pattern we have followed for too long.

But, of course, our approach to innovation must be more than just technical. We also need to transform the culture of defence itself in a variety of ways, making it more agile and adaptive and helping to develop the talents of our people in the practical exploitation of science and technology. And, importantly, as I mentioned earlier, finding ways to bring a greater range of talented and innovative individuals to the service of the nation.

I say this because I want the Armed Forces to be an exemplar of Diversity and Inclusivity; but I want this not simply for its own sake, but so that we can exploit the talent of all elements of our society.

So, for example, our innovative instincts should embrace new understanding such as the wider UK work as a global leader on Women, Peace and Security. The Review highlighted that this work will continue to be a priority for the government and so Defence will continue its investment in this area over the coming years.

After all armed conflicts around the world create a wave of destruction impacting on the lives of innocent civilians, often disproportionately affecting women and children. Sexual violence is still a commonly used weapon of war.

So, we are actively reviewing doctrine and policy to ensure that Women, Peace, and Security principles are embedded at every level of operational planning and implementation. We are reviewing basic and pre-deployment training to ensure it is effective; and we are building on our pool of gender expertise. We need to use the skills, experience, and knowledge of women in novel ways to resolve and prevent conflict. And we have already deployed Gender Advisors and experts, through our overseas training establishments, to deliver relevant training in Iraq, Afghanistan, and numerous countries in Africa.

So, innovation, will become a part of Defence’s culture, in all that we do.

My final theme is partnership

If, so far, this has all sounded a bit too self-confident and hubristic can I now inject a huge amount of humility. The Review recognises that there is only so much security that any one nation can achieve alone. The importance of achieving collective security through alliances remains vital, particularly to any enterprise that needs to be conducted at scale. Partnerships are fundamental to our ability to manage security risk in a context in which we cannot afford a national inventory to face all threats. Particularly if one of those threats is a more general challenge to the rules based world as we know it.

In the past the UK has been what you might describe as international-by-instinct. We did it because we’d always done it, but there was not always a clear strategy behind it. Now we plan to be international-by-design. So our Review reaffirms that NATO remains at the heart of British defence. Not just through the 2% GDP commitment but through capability contributions, for example, to the enhanced NATO Response Force and more widely in our capability choices.

We are at the heart of NATO’s Readiness Action Plan to improve both reassurance and deterrence; recognising that Deterrence has to deal with a more Hybrid threat.

We are also committed to other multi-lateral arrangements. We have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with our Baltic, Danish, Dutch and Norwegian friends for them to be a part of our national Joint Expeditionary Force, the force which is the foundation of our return to contingency.

Separately in the Gulf Region we are committed to developing a series of permanent bases, for example our Naval Base in Bahrain, in order to enhance the wider support and reassurance we can give to the region.

And our bilateral-relationships are as close as ever. With the French, we have just completed the initial validation phase of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force.

And with the Americans we continue to share a remarkably intimate military relationship, of equipment, technology, innovation, nuclear development, special forces, intelligence and – increasingly – cooperation in the global alignment of force deployments, particularly in the maritime domain and in the allocation of precious ISR capabilities.

Well, I think I have probably said enough. What I wanted to achieve is a shared understanding that the Review was, to Defence and the Armed Forces, far more than an opportunity to spend more money on kit.

There is logic to our capability choices and they will influence future force development. But the more fundamental implications of the Review on the Armed Forces, if properly managed, are on the character of the force. It is a future force of greater utility and agility; one that by being integrated in a national endeavour is more routinely strategic in purpose; and it is a future force which aspires to be innovative in nature; and international by design.

So by way of conclusion

The National Security Strategy and SDSR in combination are an appropriate response to what I consider to be the Grand Strategic Security Challenge of the Age. Namely how to accommodate the change which is inevitable, whilst maintaining stability; the stability from which we derive our international authority, our relative prosperity and our wonderful open society. And to do so at a time of ever more diverse threats and ever greater complexity in inter-national relations.

The Review is not a panacea, but it does offer a blueprint for how the United Kingdom aspires to retain national advantage in a competitive and dangerous world. And we have recognised we cannot do it alone, by chance, nor through the simple evolution of previous capability and practice.

The “Interesting Times” which formed the context for the Review are set to continue. There is simply too much change in the world borne of demographic, economic and societal challenge to the status quo.

But let me just finish with the other element of “Interesting Times” which formed the context for the Review. This was the wholly appropriate and far greater questioning, by parliament and society, of the utility of military force in managing the security challenges of the age.

We have been reminded that, in the most developed of democracies, there is inevitability a far greater challenge to the utility and, therefore, employment of force and it certainly cannot be taken as a given.

I believe, therefore, that we have a strong public duty to help to educate and inform our society, that the freedoms we enjoy are not a free good. We constantly need to protect them, to project our influence to help preserve and enhance them, and, by being prepared to fight for them, hope that we don’t have to, at least too often.

Thankyou all very much; a heartfelt thankyou for all who work in Defence; and as quiet a Christmas as you deserve.

from Ministry of Defence – Activity on GOV.UK http://ift.tt/1UAA2ya

Or you could watch the video


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December 17, 2015 10:04 am

1) It’s his last time speaking until Carter or Pulford or Zambellas takes over

2) Same themes, different words

3) Politics will never equal to military desires.

Peter Elliott
December 17, 2015 3:56 pm

All the right mood music. Proof of the pudding will be in the eating. In particular how the various Army equipment programmes: Apache, MIV etc translate into meaningful Medium Strike Brigades.

December 17, 2015 9:03 pm

And a better considered methodology for re-generation.

Interesting bit.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
December 17, 2015 9:43 pm

“a £2Bn investment for SF enablement, particularly strategic insertion”

This caught my eye. Is this the additional retained Hercs, or something else? Some replacements for the JSFAW Lynx are also needed.

Blue Water
Blue Water
December 17, 2015 9:59 pm

“Separately in the Gulf Region we are committed to developing a series of permanent bases, for example our Naval Base in Bahrain, in order to enhance the wider support and reassurance we can give to the region.”

“a series of permanent bases”

Are there going to be more new bases? Does he just mean we’re going to further develop that RAF airbase in Qatar?

December 17, 2015 10:32 pm

@Blue Water

I think the aerial hub in the UAE (still called RAF Al Udeid?) has been quietly solidified and expanded over the last couple of years.

There are semi-regular RAF training deployments to the UAE as well and i think there was some talk of a more permanent Army presence in Oman as a sort of desert version of BATUS. Not sure if that was just rumours and speculation though

December 18, 2015 5:45 am

SF enablement, particularly strategic insertion”

– ok, the Hercs’ range make them fairly strategic, but there is also emphasis on RN helo decks being Chinook capable on new vessels (SF Chinooks having a refuel kit installation)

Regarding the broader Gulf geography, let’s not forget the harbour in Oman where the carriers can turn and manoeuvre more easily than in their home base – one of the announcements this year, albeit low profile

Strictly speaking Qatar is not one of the many parts of the UAE. We are co-habiting there, just like our Navy base is a sub-tenant of the USN in Bahrein:
“RAF Al Udeid is a Royal Air Force station located at Al Udeid Air Base which itself is located 17 miles south west of Doha in Qatar”

December 18, 2015 6:59 am
Reply to  ArmChairCivvy

What is the “refuel kit installation” you are referring to?

Chinooks can carry AAR probes but can’t refuel from Voyagers.

December 18, 2015 10:28 am

Strategic spec-ops insertion does not mean putting guys Chinooks in the UK and then flying them to Libya. It is an organisation/deployment channel issue rather than an equipment one.

It has gone unmentioned by Houghton has been the best CDS we have had for years, no drama, no baggage just competently executed and well thought out policy. His emphasis has been in all the right places and he has shown no loyalty to his own service above the other two. He deserves significant praise where some of his recent predecessors deserve condemnation.

December 18, 2015 10:44 am

Both parts of the statement correct “Chinooks can carry AAR probes but can’t refuel from Voyagers.”
– and you have the mess with A400Ms capability as well

Noteworthy, though, that US and UK forces have co-use of assets in that field on a regular basis. And that to extend the reach/ perseverance of their special forces, French AF is in the process of getting two 130Js with refuelling kits installed. So, which ever way you look, Africa, M East, where else?… arrangements can be made. We aim to operate within Alliances, right?

December 18, 2015 1:28 pm

French MoD has approved the purchase of four new transport aircraft C-130J. The official order should be placed early 2016 via Foreign Military Sales procedure . 4 new C-130 will be levied on American production lines to the US Air Force. The Ministry has therefore decided, on 4 C-130 will not be used C-130. The contract, which includes maintenance and training, would amount to $ 700 million, more than was provided for updating the Military Programming Act. This purchase meets a real operational urgency for the Sahelian theater. Two C-130 will be able to provide in-flight refueling of helicopters and two will be armed. The C-130 does not replace the A400M, but complements the median of tactical transport needs since the A400M does not meet the original specifications. With refueling helicopters, now essential in modern warfare, A400M due to its very strong turbulence unfortunately does not allow this capability.
The second configuration is the arming of two C-130. There is a particular need for special forces. A tender will be launched soon. The Minister does not hide his preference for the system AGM-176 missiles Griffin Raytheon, which offers the advantage of being already qualified and in service.

Peter Elliott
December 18, 2015 1:59 pm

Interesting comment that Atlas is not able to meet this tasking. Airbus need to think hard about that given the number of airframes committed to be built but not currently assigned a role.

December 18, 2015 5:41 pm


Atlas is and will remain a good notch-below lifter to C-17, and as such it really probably should be the bulk of European lift fleets in particular (which are, except in extraordinary cases, bound for destinations in northern- and eastern-most Europe, the ME, and Africa, rather than physically around-the-world.) As such I’d like to see more than 22 Atlas in the RAF fleet. But there’s a definite need for special insertion (not just for SF in the classic sense but maybe even the lead edge of a Paras spearhead) and like a broken clock being right twice a day LockMart has developed excellent packages for that over the years. Don’t know that I’d want fourteen Hercs in general condition left over, but it would be very nice to have 6-8 fully upgraded to current MC-130 block standard. If SF and related early-entry is supposed to be a British “capability plus” for NATO et al then it makes sense to take an extant opportunity (some relatively young Hercs kicking around from the tail end of the purchase) and leverage the “good optics” that can be sold to the public and backbenchers about preventing or retaliating for the “next Paris.”

On a general note (see wot I did there) I find myself in the rather uncomfortable position of agreeing completely with Hohum about something. I will be desperately sad to see Houghton go. He really has been the best CDS in an uncomfortably long time, at a moment when I suspect historians will look back and say he was desperately needed. It would be even better were he still around whenever the as-yet-unknown crisis that will eventually break in the next 3-15 years breaks, but it’s good he’s been there as long as he can. Reminds me of looking at the septics, in the wake of 9/11, simply wave goodbye to the best JCS they’d had in possibly decades, of any service — Hugh Shelton — in the midst of the largest direct attack on American interests since Pearl Harbor, and replace a bloke whose entire career had prepared him to not make a hash of Afghan, with an anodyne Air Force cipher simply because it was bureaucratically “time”. I pray something similar doesn’t happen when Sir Nicholas goes on his long-term hols. He’s been a treasure in a bad time.

Of the actual chiefs (Lor’ — remind me who’s deputy CDS? They should be on the list also) I’d rate Zambellas the best option though he’s not perfect, it’s been a bit since the Dark Blue had the job and he’s the best of the current service chiefs. Pulford would be “eh” but probably no worse than eh. Keep it away from Carter with a barge pole (as a side note if Houghton quietly ****ed him out of it behind the scenes in retaliation for Carter axing the Green Howards and their mafia — to the advantage of Carter’s own Black Mafia — it would be a bit of capbadge politics I could actually get behind.)

December 18, 2015 5:46 pm

A postscript on Houghton: being over the ocean these days, and with the upcoming holiday adding to that sense of remove, it’s a pleasure to hear the residual Yorkshire in his dipthongs.

Peter Elliott
December 18, 2015 6:22 pm

I was thinking not just of our Atlas but of all the Spanish, French and German ones currently looking for roles. You would think Airbus would be all over developing and offering gunship and special forces fits.

December 18, 2015 7:11 pm

@Philip Elliot,

Good point, and on me I didn’t see it emerge fully from what you were saying. A gunship loadout seems especially apt, Atlas is a big, solid frame with plenty of room to have not just weaponry but the full panoply of information capture and assessment aboard so you’re not running separate a/c on targeting and fires. With longer-ranged weapons it could probably sit higher than AC-130s can as well, good for targeting and also for having time to employ defensive suites. Something a little more slimlined (like, well, MC-130 in its current form) seems better for sneaking in the Squirrels but besides the (reasonable IMO) ideas about surveillance and MPA platforms off of Atlas, your gunship suggestion’s excellent.

December 18, 2015 7:23 pm

some ways above,

He’s right about the need for better force generation and, in a telling line that’s a buried lede — “the force structure must be more productive rather than simply contingent” — he’s come as close as he can publicly to saying (correctly far as I’m concerned) that Army 2020 stinks and will not meet actual needs down the line, and that the 2-2-2 setup that emerged from the SDSR (armoured-“strike”-16AAB/3Cdo) is only step one in correcting that.

Also interesting that he sort-of-but-not-quite contradicts himself about how “military options” for things like fighting Ebola (spot on with military medics and speed of response) and search-and-rescue of publicly or politically crucial assets (he’s not too impressed with privatisation?) will be ever more in demand, but also that the range and nature of problems that admit of a military solution is narrowing. One thing this does, again, is dish the “Adaptable Force” backhandedly, which makes me more confident that if Houghton has any say Slick Nick will not be the next CDS: the kinds of non-force/deterrence situations that will need a component supplied by the military will be considerably more specialised than L/Cpl Simpkins from Clitheroe and a two-thirds-strength light-role battalion doing “engagement.”

It’s encouraging if he’s impressed on others at the final-decision level that two things are happening at the moment, thanks to the nature of conflicts, the nature of national resources, and the nature of global politics and debate and media: force is less and less useful for, well Iraq-and-Afghan style operations, not simply because of the long bleed but because of the return on investment (and that Libya, beyond the necessity to prevent a massacre in Benghazi, is a good example of why as well.) Force will be less useful across a *range* of possibilities, but a more likely *consideration* in some future crises because of their severity and direct effect (whole regions destablised, threats of WMD by states that actually have them to back their plays, more genocides, or home-nation citizens not only endangered but actually massacred to make a point), and there will be more need to concentrate mass, speed of arrival, and concentration on end state (“winning” whatever the limited range of immediate crisis happens to be.) That “end state” bit won’t sit well with politicians, or indeed a number of career uniformed and MoD personnel, who prefer situations that can either be avoided or “managed”/finessed long enough for them to move up the next rung of the ladder and not get blamed for any problems (or reelected, whichever’s relevant to the folk in question.)

Peter Elliott
December 18, 2015 8:02 pm

Jackstaff agree with that. All parts of the armed forces need to offer the utility to be doing something useful NOW. Whether that be deterrance by “force in being” or the ability to get somewhere and get stuck into doing something unexpected very quickly. The idea that we can have whole formations sat around waiting to generate into something predictably useful in 3 years time looks dead as dodo to me.

Peter Elliott
December 18, 2015 8:03 pm

The implication is that we invest more in readiness and stockpiles and training and less in cadres and the fictive appearance of “mass”

Jeremy M H
December 18, 2015 8:15 pm
Reply to  Peter Elliott

The problem for A400m in alternative roles is that it cost too much for its base roles (all of which it can’t do yet anyway) so no one will throw testing money at it to add on anything else. C-130 is cheaper and already been through all that. A400m can’t make a compelling case for sales generally. Adding niche roles won’t fix that.

Peter Elliott
December 18, 2015 8:20 pm

Anyone want to make a stab why the base airframe is so expensive compared to C130? On the face of it they should at least be in the same ballpark…? Or is there a chunk of development money and overhead being paid off?

December 18, 2015 11:04 pm

“That we invest more in readiness and stockpiles and training and less in cadres and the fictive appearance of ‘mass.'”

This X 1000. Said far more succinctly than me (not that that’s hard :) One of our tribal elders, and an old mate in early TD days, Jed, had a great “elevator pitch” for that approach. “A hard-as-nails David, not a hollow Goliath.” With regard to the Army more BEF 1.0 than a Potemkin BAOR or Raj garrison. And I think it goes round to each of the services. Concentrate on a handful of key extramurals like ISTAR and CASD and anti-pandemic medicine, and then focus on weight of punch in a few areas that have the greatest import related to the gravest possible threats (I’d at weight of punch is very different from The Boxing Metaphor, which really just means being deluded enough to step into the ring against some bigger bastard and getting pummeled into the canvas when you try. Actually being able to *land* something makes a much greater difference.)

December 18, 2015 11:06 pm

Oh for an Edit and time: “at” up there where it makes no grammatical sense should be “say”…

December 19, 2015 9:07 am

UK Forces post 2010 (or even before) have been operating a a small unit basis–1 company/battlegroup for overseas engagement or NATO or bilateral exercises. So maybe they (TPTB) see it as–hey! don’t need to have 100% full equipment. So that’s why only 245 CTA turrets for 6 battalions of Warrior–at best only 4 will be deployed in a major or medium sized war. Same for SF, same for transport, same for elsewhere.

That’s my guess. As I said, Houghton says want is wanted never fufilled. Bet he’s glad to hand over soon.

December 19, 2015 3:00 pm

There is this as well “A significant increase in UAVs – Twenty UK certified MQ 9 Reaper, which we will call Protectors” So we now know what the Protectors will be, I think the name change is to make it sound less aggressive that “Reaper”

December 22, 2015 4:16 am

@ HMArmedForcesReview

For the 20th C (if not earlier) the Army has always operated on having Peace and War establishments for units of all types. The process for moving from one to the other requires mobilisation to recall reservists (‘Queens Order 1’ or something IIRC). The last time this occurred was in 1939. A key element of this mobilisation is that units receive initial Battle Casualty Replacements as well as the additional men to round out the numbers, eg two men instead of one for every truck, extra riflemen in every platoon, bring artillery gun detachments up to over-strength (ie bigger that the Gun Drill book states), etc.

Not sure about Korea, but post WW2 this has never happened, although sometimes extra men have been added by borrowing from other units, eg for NI each battalion area had a minimum head-count for the unit deploying there.

I don’t see a major problem with 245 CTA turrets for 6 inf bns, the main users are the 9 inf pls, each 4 vehs, that’s 36 per bn or 216.

December 22, 2015 10:21 am

On the numbers of turreted vehicles in an infantry battalion, it’s 14 per company as the HQ has two, so you’ve run out before you start equipping the support company or battalion HQs, let along training vehicles.

December 22, 2015 12:46 pm

As per mr.fred’s comment, the training in BATUS at BG level needs a Coy/ Bn also fitted out, so make the total 7 (x 42).

The minus 2 comes from the hokus-pocus with Strike bdes (my guess). So solves a procurement problem and (the strike bdes) also meet a real need (over the horizon type of time scale for it, though).

5 x 42= 210 + 10% float for the need to sit in maintenance/ receive upgrades… comes pretty close?

December 23, 2015 10:35 pm


BATUS is a lovely facility, really a great asset — and it needs to be shuttered. It’s not just the expense, it’s a luxury of a big army. Keeping an entire battlegroup of usable heavy kit an ocean *plus* most of a continent away is lunacy in the current and medium-term environment. There’s not a huge motor pool in Germany any longer to let the Army absorb having that much gear that actually works at such a remove, and not enough lead time in future conflicts (opponents have learned that the way to defeat the West is simply to move fast) to get mass on target for you to pack it up and ship it. MoD need to follow up on some of the rumours/fancies prior to the previous SDSR of ’10 and either build a facility (in the Union spirit) in the Lowlands, or at Catterick, or haggle with the German Eflin Safety types to get “proper” live-fire exercises going again at the German training ranges in return for lowered expectations of Teutonic spending towards NATO.

On WCSP and numbers, let’s suppose that the maneouvre support company shifts on to ABSV (although that’s a giveaway to Redfor about which elements of your force are there based on presence or absence of turret.) That leaves 3×14 of turreted FV510 and FV511 (the standard and “command-model” fighting Warriors) in line companies and 1×2 FV511 in the command element, so 44 per armoured infantry bn.

Then, 4 x 44 gives you 176, enough for two current-orbat “armoured infantry brigades”, plus spares at a 1:3 ratio of one repairs/combat loss replacement spare to every three on unit establishment (rounding 58.666666 up to 59) and that’s 235 hulls. This leaves 10 out for advanced training (not just DT — gunners and vehicle commanders and Reems need to train too) and modifications field tests. At that point you have usable fleet numbers to equip at that level over the long term.

(As an added mathematical bonus you could do likewise by stripping out Ajax/Ares elements from battalion/regimental recon, replacing them with something sneakier for stealthy recce — Jackal 2, or Ridgeback if that’s not “heavy” enough, or something else UOR — and buy an extra eleven Ares PMRS model (order up from 589 to 600) and have enough to do the same out of the stated procurement plans for Ajax and moving Ares PMRS up from 59 to 70 hulls (fleet plus 1:3 on spares plus a little clutch of DT/testers) to equip four Cavalry regiments to Ajax/Ares standard, one each for the armoured and “strike” brigades. This is also a plausible outcome and one to be looked towards.

December 23, 2015 10:59 pm

Based on that sort of thing, and this isn’t my preferred model (more on that if TD decides he wants to keep taking submissions on occasion, he says darkly…) but would certainly be a plausible and usable one for the service:

Two identical Armoured Brigades made of:
1x Cavalry regiment on Ajax/Ares
1x Type 56 Challenger 2 regt
2x Armoured Infantry battalions on WCSP/ABSV
1x Mechanised Infantry battalion on MIV
Artillery regiment with three batteries of AS90 and one of missiles (MLRS/Exactor)
all the support stuff that actually matters quite a bit (RE, REME, close support RLC, etc)

That forms you up a Cav regt out on the perimeter, three full battlegroups of 1xC2 sqdn, 2x WCSP/ABSV company groups (rifle plus a hodgepodge of maneouvre support) and 1x MIV company group, plus a fourth battlegroup headquarters/support coy without attached bits that can take over a battlegroup if the command element exhausts itself or a competent enemy targets it for mass casualties.

Two identical “Strike” (oy) Brigades made of:
1x Cavalry regiment on Ajax/Ares
1x Mechanised Infantry battalion on MIV
2x Protected Infantry battalions on Foxhound
Artillery regiment with three batteries of Light Gun or something better and one of missiles (MLRS/Extractor)
All that support stuff again

So there, three BGs each of 1xAjax sqdn, 1x MIV company group, 2x Foxhound company groups, and again the spare BG command/support element.

Potentially two identical rapid-reaction bdes, if you wanted to, each built with identical battalions on the current Para model (seems efficient for this sort of battalion) with:
1x Para battalion
1x RM Commando
2x Air Assault multi-terrain infantry bns (I would recommend amalgamating 2 RIFLES and 5 RIFLES, the old RGJ bns, all the Rifles bns have excellent recruiting records meeting or exceeding their target strength, so make them work like the Light Division of old out on the front edges with two RIFLES bns in each of these rapid-reaction bdes alongside the Paras and RM)

Then you’d also have out:

1x Type 56 Armoured regiment (I recommend RTR; they would be able to either parcel out a sabre squadron each to both Strike bdes and one of the rapid-reaction ones, or beef up two battlegroups in the lead Armoured Bde — plus one in the second — with an extra sqdn of tanks, and a second battlegroup in the second Armoured Bde could get a full sabre sqdn cobbled together from the Royal Wessex Yeomanry)

Anywhere from the current two, to four, Protected Inf batatlions on Foxhound (there’s enough Foxhound fleet to fit out eight PM bns rather than six, if that’s desired) off doing other things

A pair of good-sized bns on Public Duties, one each in London and Edinburgh, plus a larger composite company (one platoon from each Guards bn?) at Windsor.

That might be a worthwhile model.

December 23, 2015 11:00 pm

Bollocks: left out that each Strike Bde would also have a Jackal cavalry regiment for recce.