An Alternative Approach
In the previous section I looked at the general security environment and the political and financial situation, if we carry on normal jogging, these competing pressures will have a serious impact on the British Army.
High-Level Change Principles
UK Defence and Security change should be anchored on four very clear principles.
Mind Our Own Defence and Be Blunt with Those That Don’t; meet our NATO commitments on spending and nudge those in delinquency to do likewise. This is as much a political statement than anything else but just as important nonetheless. Defence and security exist in multiple overlapping and connected layers, but the first and obvious layer is to see to one’s own territorial integrity. To be an effective member of a coalition, one should not be an unnecessary burden on others. If your defence rests on one for all and all for one, a disparity in capability is perfectly acceptable but a disparity in commitment is not.
Work Well with Others; Effective defence and security rest on being an active and reliable partner in a coalition, this requires attention to standards and interoperability at every level. The UK is a significant military power and anyone saying the words ‘Belgium with nukes’ should, frankly, stop reading now. That said the UK military must work in coalitions to achieve mass; where possible, sub-regional multinational partnerships offer great potential for others to work with the UK. Cooperation and coordination should, therefore, be absolutely central to future plans
Prevention is Cheaper than Cure; Any common sense strategy will first seek to deter enemies and reduce the potential for conflict, a simple assumption that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The relative amounts spent on preventative and responsive capabilities will change over time and in many cases, the same spend will cover both.
Be Credible in Response; Capabilities that are stretched drum-tight are less than worthless because they are not resilient, give decision makers a false impression of what can be achieved with them and don’t impress if we are seeking influence in a coalition. Better a well-equipped, fully manned, well trained and extremely robust capability at medium scale now than a weak, brittle larger capability without enough enablers that have to rely on UOR’s in maybe 6 months-time if the industry can help. Readiness and resilience must be key principles of force design. The days of self-delusion about ammunition stocks, training in realistic environments with live weapons, post gapping and that enablers matter less than teeth must come to an end.
These are high level, not specific to any one service, but this is a post about the British Army.
An Alternative View
The alternative described here is a recognition that;
- The Army needs money to treat its people better, they are the foundation of capability
- The Army needs money to generate capabilities that are credible and enable seamless interoperability with the USA
- The Army needs money to implement the Strike vision whilst also modernising the heavy armour
- The Army needs money for realistic training, munitions stocks, adequate spares provision and all the other things that are invisible to most looking at these things
- It isn’t going to get any, it just isn’t
- Hard decisions
The current strategy of doing everything everywhere with decreasing capabilities is fooling fewer and fewer people, logic dictates the UK has to choose, or at the very least, prioritise one over the other.
So how do you do you square the circle?
ONE – Create Space and Money by Reducing Mass
Although we can tinker around the edges to shift money from one pot to the other, reducing in size is the only realistic option that creates enough money for a meaningful change.
There is no joy in saying this because reducing personnel means potentially making them redundant, changing their lives and stopping them doing what they desire, and in no way should be viewed lightly. But if it creates a sustainable career and family life for those remain, instead of just continually asking them to do more and more with less and less then it is something that has to be considered.
Similarly, if it allows the British Army to focus and concentrate on a fewer number of things to maximise effect, then again, it has to be considered.
What that reduction would be in real terms would actually come at the end of the planning process but one could imagine it would be significant, circa 15-20 thousand.
Public duties, defence music, display and ceremonial tasks remain an important part of national life and taken together, their contribution defence diplomacy and the UK economy is significant. The general rule that costs lie where they fall for Government expenditure still applies so getting Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the Royal Household or the Mayor of London to stump up the money is a non-starter. Whether it is training horse and rider, actually providing the Queen’s Guard, making horseshoes or keeping the Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in the air, the MoD is on the hook for it.
However, there should be no stone left unturned in looking and means of reducing the cost of delivery.
There is something to be said for the Queen’s guard comprising wholly serving infantry but no one outside of defence actually cares about this. Neither do they care that farriers are soldiers either, or RM flautists or BBMF mechanics for that matter. This is not a proposal to diminish the role of public duties, it is to make it cheaper so we can spend more on mental health provision, housing or other things, simply one of prioritisation.
The MoD should establish an arms-length body or agency that is solely responsible for public duties, defence music and other similar tasks. Instead of being solely regular personnel it should be manned by a mixture of regular, reserve, FTRS, civilians and former serving personnel that see this as a viable means of service continuation at the end of their careers.
This is a radical step and might not yield significant savings but it would demonstrate the resolve to of the Army to change whilst still retaining the essence of public duties.
TWO – Spend More on Our People
Education, vocational training and adventurous training are a key aspect of the offer, they need better funding.
For the UK defence housing and basing/training estate, an immediate independent review of the cost-effectiveness of the current outsourced service providers should be carried out. One of the change principles is about designing for people, it would seem that none of the current providers has been without controversy or is popular with users. There may be opportunities to replace the single monolithic provider contracts with localised arrangements that allow smaller business, veterans owned, non-profits and others to compete. This would also provide employment opportunities for partners and a viable transition route for some leavers.
There simply has to be a greater proportion of defence resources devoted to serving personnel and veterans mental health and welfare.
And pay and housing, obviously.
THREE – Yes, Prevention is Better than Cure
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 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 (although it is a few years old) the International Defence Engagement Strategy provides additional information. JDP 05 Shaping a Stable World: the Military Contribution pulls these together and provides a good diagram that illustrates how they all fit together. 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 and Upstream conflict prevention.
Defence engagement supports all three of these pillars and 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. 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.
Fundamentally, this should be the UK’s default strategy
Capacity Building, nestled inside Security Sector Reform, can create a sustainable stability but if the two are done in isolation, they are likely to fail. Where this integration occurs, it must be sustained over a period of time and include not only training and assisting but genuine capability development that includes export finance and equipment and support from UK and local industry. There is no harm in favouring UK industry, far from it. The US approach is State Department led and incorporates Foreign Military Sales FMS and Foreign Military Finance FMF. This is an interesting model to emulate. The British Army has four Specialist Infantry Battalions (4 Rifles, 1 Scots, 1 PWRR and 2 Lancs) devoted to this activity but this is limited to infantry tasks.
The MoD, DFiD and the FCO should devote much greater resources to conflict prevention and capacity development. A new joint command should make greater use of contract, FTRS, and other personnel resources, especially the many skilled personnel we allow to walk out of the door every year. Creative and flexible engagement models should be employed.
This new joint command should, therefore, focus on the following areas and themes;
- Conflict drivers (poaching, smuggling and illegal fishing
- Demining and the removal of the explosive remnants of war
- Maritime and littoral security and exploiting the magnifying effects of airpower
- Infrastructure development
- Defence technical and medical education
- NCO and Officer Training
As SDSR 2015 is at great pains to point out defence and security are inextricably linked and an effective criminal justice system (of which the police are the most visible element) is fundamental to enduring stabilisation efforts. The UK’s Armed Forces are a great many things, but police capacity building is not one of them. As the police are the first line of defence and a key source of intelligence in any potential stabilisation scenario the lack of ability to deploy assets to bolster this capability in struggling states remains a concern, especially considering the lack of US capability in this area.
The new joint command would also include a police capacity-building capability.
FOUR – Rapid Effects
The other leg of conflict prevention is having a credible response capability but we also have to be realistic what we are responding to. Any emergent capability must have reference to current scenarios but it must also be built to endure and be applicable to the most likely scenarios.
This might be a controversial view but Russian armoured forces streaming into Poland, the Baltics States and Norway with its entire Army is not a likely scenario, not completely implausible, but not likely. More likely is conflict short of war which a ‘warfighting division’ might not actually be best placed to counter, or deter. Counterinsurgency and sustained deployments have not gone away, and it is certainly foreseeable that the UK would be involved in something akin to Operation Serval in Mali.
If we look at the ‘bulging out the middle’ FRES concept, it was sound, although execution less so. FRES has evolved to STRIKE but this seems much less well defined and is as much about supporting the heavy armoured force than anything else. Operating over larger distances at pace, aggregation and disaggregation, exploiting distributed indirect fire and dominating the cyber and EM space might be extensions of the FRES concept of rapid deployability but these are much more relevant than traditional armoured capabilities for a wider range of conflict.
Politically, I think we should focus on capability development for our eastern and northern European allies. Beyond that, rapid reinforcement from the UK, and perhaps in some parts, Germany or Poland, should be the chosen strategy.
This results in a proposition to build a rounded medium weight capability at the expense of traditional armour and a preponderance of light role infantry. In other words, a STRIKE DIVISION. This would be combined with an air mobility brigade, a small armoured capability and SF/SF Support force, and with the exception of the specialist infantry and other capabilities, that would pretty much be it.
I intend to expand on these in future releases but at a headline level;
The Divisional HQ is where all the pieces of the jigsaw come together, it is vital that the British Army retains the ability to conduct operations at this scale, even if the scale is afforded by a medium weight STRIKE division.
Modular Armoured Force
This is the tough one, but the proposal is to generate a modular armoured force that can operate in relatively small packets attached to other formations and as a means of skills retention. I get there will be many against this notion and will be no doubt reminded about the concentration of armoured force and penny packets but in the context of this proposal, I just can’t see any other way of squaring the circle.
The eventual size of this force would be open to debate but I would envisage an oversize armoured infantry battlegroup consisting of CR2 and Ajax. This means Warrior would be completely withdrawn, as would the venerable FV432. The overall size of the Ajax contract would remain largely as is but recast to include fewer Ajax reconnaissance variants and more infantry fighting vehicles, with a new ambulance variant. The engineering CR2 variants would remain, although potentially reduced in number. MLRS and AS90 would also be withdrawn
This is certainly arsed about-face, I get that, and yes, it is drastic, but the force would be built around a hundred or so upgraded CR2 and 550-600 Ajax.
Increase SF and SF Support
Always in demand and one of the enduring features of the British Army is special-forces and their various support functions. The Parachute Regiment and specialist capabilities like parachute medical, logistics and especially airfield engineering would be combined in a new SF Support function, with 16AAB disbanded as a single entity.
Air Mobility Brigade
With no parachute capability, this brigade would be solely reliant on air transport and support helicopters for inter and intra theatre mobility. The force would also be wheeled, with each vehicle capable of being lifted by the Chinook helicopter.
We could call it a Light Strike Brigade although it is in essence a light cavalry brigade.
Whether providing route security, high readiness NEO response, acting as a strategic anti-tank reserve or supporting the STRIKE division by bounding forward, its defining characteristic would be air supported mobility.
For deploying rapidly, it is probably the case that wheeled fighting vehicles can deploy quicker than a similarly sized tracked force on transporters, and we don’t have that many transporters, less than a hundred. At max effort, it is unlikely we would be able to deploy a single armoured regiment or armoured infantry battalion in one go, let alone a Strike Brigade with Ajax. We should also have a chat about bridges.
If we are deploying east, we can be sure any convoy would be being impeded by refugees and various collection of pre-deployed ‘little green men’. Route security, bridging and the ability to disperse or rapidly change routes are critical factors to getting there.
This points to an all wheeled force that exploits the operational mobility vision of FRES and the contemporary STRIKE concepts of distributed operations, cyber and EM exploitation, and distributed indirect fires and manned/unmanned teaming. I think STRIKE is a brilliant concept, but is hamstrung by a shortage of funds and saddling it with a supporting role for the heavy armour. FRES always included a heavy variant and was integrated with the legacy force but if we have to choose, as I think we have to, then wheeled is the only option.
The STRIKE division would consist of three or four STRIKE brigades with a full set of supporting divisional capabilities, implemented at strength and with real depth; port enablement, ISTAR, long range artillery and ECM for example, capabilities that have atrophied recently. A small element would also be held at very high readiness and a particular characteristic would be no gapped posts and oversized personnel groups to enable absorption of training injury, leave and training absence.
The force would be based on Boxer, MAN trucks and a recast MRV-P programme, the latter of which would be greatly expanded in size and scope.
In addition to the ‘adaptable force’ model supporting an enlarged joint conflict reduction command as described above, there would also be a flexible force that can conduct UK civil resilience tasks and operate in specialised environments, the latter to include arctic, jungle, urban and subterranean.
The ‘Force Troops’ and 1 ISR Brigade would also be retained although realigned to the organisation described above. Army Reserve would be reviewed, with a significant reduction and realignment to civil resilience, defence engagement and UK/overseas territorial defence roles.
In summary, this is a proposal to trade mass in order to spend more on our people and develop capabilities that have applicability to a wider range of more likely operations than the current force model. It opts to do fewer things, but doing them in depth rather than the thin jam spread very thinly that seems to be the current approach.
I get that many will be wholly against it and that we should all lobby for more spending, but I can’t see this happening and would rather be realistic about choices.
Have at it in the comments but as I mentioned above, I will get around to expanding each of the options in separate posts.