Last year (2016), the MoD released a news story that described how an RAF C-17 from 99 Squadron had deployed to Hungary to conduct training in Hungary.
UK Ambassador to Hungary, Iain Lindsay, said:
No. 99 Squadron pilot Flight Lieutenant Ben Mountfield, said:
Although the deployment was ostensibly a training one, there was a valuable defence engagement opportunity to be exploited. A flight and assault landing with VIP’s from the Hungarian Ministry of Defence was carried out.
This is the theme of this post, the value of using ‘air’ capabilities in the defence engagement role.
Defence Engagement, Capacity Building and Conflict Prevention
Chatham House held a workshop in 2014 to explore the role of the British Army in Conflict prevention with General Sir Peter Wall and Allan Mallinson, click here to read the transcript. The Army’s Adaptable Force as part of Army 2020 continues to evolve, the August 2015 Joint Doctrine Note 1/15 describes the MoD’s defence engagement approach and the International Defence Engagement Strategy provides additional information.
Defence engagement is therefore designed to build understanding and develop capacity with the objective of preventing conflict.
The Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for International Development (DFID) and MOD strategy for conflict prevention. BSOS also outlines three main mutually-supporting pillars of the Government’s stability strategy;
- Early warning
- Rapid crisis prevention and response
- Upstream conflict prevention.
Defence engagement supports all three of these pillars.
Defence Engagement creates effects through four broad ways; security and non-combat operations; Defence diplomacy, defence and security exports; and regional stability, conflict prevention, post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation.
Upstream conflict prevention, is a simple concept that at its core seeks to make the UK safer by providing help to unstable nations such that they can help themselves to stabilise. The theory is that an Ounce of prevention saves a Pound of cure. Getting in early, de-escalating early stage conflict and supporting overseas development efforts are all seen, quite rightly, as effective means of preventing wider and much more expensive conflict.
The British Army and Royal Navy conduct upstream conflict prevention missions all the time and can range from a training on an opportunity basis to more involved and lengthy engagements. Some no doubt are successes, others less so, that of course being the nature of the beast.
Short Term Training Teams and enduring deployments like the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT), together with regionally aligned Adaptable Force brigades, demonstrate how the British Army devotes considerable resource to the task, especially in Africa.
There has been a couple of posts on defence engagement over the years on Think Defence, including this from David Hulme Footsoldier;
DHF concluded that capacity building to prevent conflict must be integrated with Security Sector Reform (SRR) and share three characteristics;
- Focused, prolonged engagement,
- Train, Advise, Assist and Accompany,
- Nested within an SSR context.
Phil also wrote another post, highlighting risks and urging some degree of caution with upstream engagement;
What does this mean in practice?
From these two posts, it is apparent that upstream engagement and capacity building are connected, have risks and must be seen in a wider context to be successful.
The Air Component
Joint Doctrine Publication 0-30 defines UK Air and Space Doctrine, particularly the three core air power attributes;
Air capabilities exploit the vertical dimension. Aircraft are usually faster than surface vehicles and can often go directly to their destinations. By definition, elevation is inherent to air operations. These factors result in the core air power attributes of height, speed and reach
The advantage of height is an enduring military reality. Air power’s high vantage point allows us to observe and dominate activities in other environments. At the tactical level, height may put us out of vertical range of some surface threats. It also allows us to manoeuvre in three dimensions, helping to enhance our survivability.
The speed of aircraft allows us to project power rapidly and responsively and to complete missions quickly. This increases tempo and provides the opportunity to exploit the fourth dimension – time. At the tactical level, speed allows us to create surprise and reduces our exposure to hostile fire, thereby, increasing survivability.
The pervasiveness of air power provides reach. This potentially exposes all of our adversaries’ resources to influence through attack or observation, regardless of their location.
On preventing conflict…
Preventing conflict involves identifying and managing threats before they materialise. This demands an integrated, cross-government approach, including outreach, influence activities and conflict prevention based on diplomacy, deterrence and aid Air power provides particular opportunities to support these activities. These include: Engaging overseas, beyond our core alliance within NATO – activities include providing mentoring, advice and training to other air forces (capacity building); Building understanding – using air-derived intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) for horizon-scanning to identify threats and opportunities; Managing developing crises – by delivering humanitarian aid, disaster relief and early-intervention forces; and Supporting conventional deterrence – providing a demonstrable and credible capability to hold potential adversaries at continuous risk.
JCN 3/12 described the future UK Air and Space Doctrine and whilst it provides some additional context for capability building and conflict prevent as part of the Adaptable Britain posture.
One of the issues of using the RAF for upstream conflict prevention is nothing at all to do with them, it is the other guys. Whilst the British Army can train an infantry solder from Sierra Leone in first aid or section attacks without needing Challenger 2 tanks it is more difficult (although not impossible) to exploit the many advantages of air power without aircraft.
Although the RAF conducts defence engagement activity with many nations and like the other services, has many nations wanting to come to the UK for training, the complexity of the RAF’s basic equipment does have a limiting effect on the types of defence engagement activity it can carry out.
For many years the gulf between modern Western combat aircraft and those of less developed nations has grown ever wider.
Aircraft like the Typhoon or even F-16 are enormously expensive to purchase and operate and need a developed engineering and training infrastructure that is simply unattainable for most, especially those likely to benefit most from even basic air power components such as logistics and ISTAR.
One of our guest authors has previously chronicled the complete waste of money and almost total failure of ISAF’s efforts to create an Afghanistan air force but in Iraq, the US had much more success. In Iraq, they started with simple equipment and worked up to the F-16’s they are now flying. The Iraqi forces had the advantage that they could read and write and that they had used complex aircraft before, but by starting with aircraft like the Cessna Combat Caravan they achieved a workable, sustainable and effective capability without breaking the bank or it collapsing under the weight of its own complexity.
Accepting the extensive and excellent work carried out by the RAF with NATO partners and other advanced air forces this is a proposal to extend that down the technology ladder for less advanced air forces, especially those in Africa and some parts of the Middle East.
Building on the activities that are currently carried out.
If as a nation we are at all serious about preventing conflict then we must include the benefits of ‘air-power’ and invest in capabilities accordingly.
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