Towards #SDSR18 – Defending Europe

Part 1 was about realities of funding, Part 2 about looking at risks and priorities, and Part 3, alliances and politics. To recap;

  • Part 1, the cycle of perpetual crisis at the MoD needs to be broken with a recognition of both a need for greater contingency in equipment programmes and that the defence budget is unlikely to significantly change
  • Part 2, there exists a range of threats and opportunities to UK defence including recruitment and retention, the ‘unknown’, Russia, Islamist terrorism and ongoing instability in the Middle East and Africa.
  • Part 3, the need for the UK to improve its own defences as part of being an effective member of NATO and a number of suggestions for the UK and BoT’s that seek to reduce reliance on the UK and improve resilience, and make headroom to improve manning by reducing commitment in functions that might be delivered elsewhere or by cheaper means.

The main change proposals in Part 3 were;

  • Move all ceremonial and public duties functions to a MoD Agency that is staffed with a mixture of regular personnel, Full Time Reserve Service, Reservists, civil servants and contractors (where these contractors would likely be ex service personnel with relevant experience)
  • Stop the creation of functions within defence cyber and information operations that can be reasonably performed outside of the services or MoD
  • Improve BoT self-reliance and resilience to enable reduction of commitments by UK regular forces
  • Improve fisheries and offshore infrastructure capabilities whilst also reviewing whether they remain a defence function
  • Decentralisation and investment in service accommodation making use of small business, service families working from home and veteran owned businesses wherever possible

Moving forward into areas further afield…

Defending Europe

The UK should approach the defence of Europe with a number of basic principles in mind;

  • Lead by example with spending and be blunt with those that don’t
  • Mind our own defence
  • Help our allies to help themselves
  • Have skin in the game but ensure that game is multinational with partnerships and shared delivery models the norm

Although there are many industrial and operational possibilities with Spain, the Netherlands and Italy, the UK should focus its efforts on the northern arc, from the UK through Norway and Finland (yes, I know they are not in NATO) down through the Baltic States and into Poland and other East European nations.

Whilst France may be very interested in strategic defence partnerships with the UK, Germany is clearly not, and I question whether long-term, France will stay interested.

This would be a strategic shift for the UK but to labour the point, the UK needs to focus on areas it can make a difference in and develop relationships that make sense.

Although the NATO area is large, division of responsibilities allows the UK to concentrate on a smaller geographic area. Whilst Cyprus and Gibraltar have obvious utility in protecting the Mediterranean the two focus areas for the UK should be to the North and East. The UK should approach the collective defence of Europe by dealing with European nations through NATO, on a bilateral basis and regional groups like the Nordic Council or Visegrad Group but for most part, not the EU i.e. draw some clear water between Europe and the European Union whilst remaining neutral on EU defence integration. Worth noting that the UK led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) comprises Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway, under the NATO Framework Nations Concept (FNC). It might also be an excellent opportunity to work towards a greater number of key NATO command positions being held by Nordic/Visegrad/Baltic states with the UK acting as both sponsor and in a capability development role.

The North

The UK should continue to pressure Norway, Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands to increase their defence spending to the NATO minimum, blunt words are needed as collective defence is a burden that must be shouldered equally. We might even apply some pressure on Iceland to cease their reliance on other NATO partners for air policing as the US starts refurbishing the facilities at Keflavik Air Base and getting back into regular operations from there.

Defending the North Atlantic was a traditional UK task within the Cold War NATO framework. The intent was to prevent Russian submarines and surface forces from breaking out into the Atlantic where they would be able to threaten reinforcements from the USA coming to Europe. If we go back of the Nott defence review of 1981 it predicted that Russian submarines would have been already dispersed prior to any attack against NATO and that the main objective of NATO was to fight with what it had in Europe, not wait for reinforcements. It also argued that NATO forces in central Europe would slow down a Warsaw Pact advance to provide enough just time and space for either a) nuclear decision making or b) politics to find a peace. It was perhaps a fatalistic view but it did cast into doubt the rationale behind the massive spending on closing the Greenland Iceland United Kingdom (GIUK) gap.

Skip forward to 2018 and we should ask the same question, would a conflict escalate so quickly to make the concept of reinforcement from the USA moot? The defence, technology and political environment is different from the eighties and nineties but there are still many similarities. Russian submarine and air/land activity is increasing in the North, and their capabilities are certainly improving.

It would seem rather unlikely that a coordinated attack through the North Atlantic at the same time as a thrust into Poland, the Baltic States, Finland and Romania is likely without some advance warning but that said, effective deterrence must at least recognise the possibility and mitigate it. If the general NATO strategy is to generate a credible deterrence against Russian aggression then defending the North Atlantic region must be part of that mix and because of proximity, the UK must take a lead role. The NATO Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 is commanded from Northwood, elements of this would join the operation in times of heightened risk.

With the Type 23/26 Frigate and Type 45 Destroyer, Astute, Merlin/Crowsnest and Meteor/ASRAAM armed F-35B’s aboard a QE Class aircraft carrier, protected by land based fighter aircraft and supplemented with long range maritime patrol aircraft, the UK will be able to field a powerful sea denial force that can equally protect itself from Russian strategic bombers and fighter aircraft as it can from submarines and ship launched cruise missiles. Efforts should be made to improve this capability to ensure one of the UK’s major war roles is able to be effectively discharged. Anti-submarine warfare, and everything that goes with it is a critical capability so it needs more training, more depth munition stocks, improved equipment support to generate availability and other support elements.

Research into unmanned systems that are T26 deployable, exploiting the RAF’s new Protector RPAS for ASW, wide area underwater surveillance (like the US Deep Acoustic Path Exploitation Systems (DRAPES)), and data sharing across ASW platforms should also be prioritised. Collective multinational training at scale also needs increasing focus. Evolving the Type 45’s ABM capabilities should also be accelerated. As we have seen with this year’s Formidable Shield exercise, the UK is an important location for test range activity and provides a valuable environment for the development of European missile defence.

This first part of the UK’s focus on the North will require significant investment and a change in direction for the Royal Navy from more expeditionary role to that of principally one of sea denial in the North Atlantic.

The Royal Navy needs to get its ASW mojo back.

Another issue is that of the RAF’s E-3D Sentry aircraft and its replacement or upgrade.

The more exotic mooted options include utilising passive sensors and multi-static radars on multiple unmanned platforms, all connected together in a high bandwidth and robust network. The Zephyr programme might provide some insight into the potential of this approach but lower risk and more immediate alternatives include participating in an expanded NAEW&C Programme Management Organisation (NAPMO) or purchasing an off the shelf system mounted on either a 737 like the E-7A Wedgetail or Airbus A330, like the planned Indian Air Force AEW&C aircraft. The RAF will operate both of these base aircraft into the long term so commonality benefits are obvious and both would provide some interesting industrial options. If a fleet of four to six could be obtained for less than the £2 Billion expected cost of the upgrade option it would certainly solve the availability issue and produce an immediate capability uplift for an important requirement that forms a key part of UK defence.

Another and possibly cheaper option would be to utilise a business jet airframe like the Bombardier Global 6000. Range, endurance, speed and altitude are all good and when combined with an off the shelf radar system like the Saab Erieye ER (Extended Range) adaptive AESA radar as on their Globaleye solution would certainly be a departure from the expected trajectory.

Although the UK does not have a suitable radar system ready to go, it does have a large pool of radar technology expertise from which to draw and this might also be an alternative worth considering. There is an industrial benefit with Bombardier in Northern Ireland and commonality with the Sentinel aircraft (however tenuous its future appears).

No one is suggesting this would be a superior capability to a new system on a large airframe but it might be enough when taken together with some of the more promising new technology options. This proposal is about accepting capability reductions and not pretending about it. On the flip side, a cheaper solution might allow some room for overlapping with the RAF’s P-8 fleet, implementing waveform translation systems, a growth path for Sentinel mission equipment or even optical/infra-red ballistic missile launch detection. By accepting what might be perceived to be a lower capability system, a broader range of overlapping capabilities might be possible. This would also strengthen industrial relationships with Sweden and Saab, another strand of this strategy.

Aim lower, reach higher.

For conventional defence of the UK and the North, Airborne Early Warning and Control is an essential capability that should be prioritised.

After strengthening our own capabilities to defend the North Atlantic the next part of the strategy is helping allies help themselves and put skin in their game.

This means Norway and Denmark

The first part of this joint approach should be to coordinate and cooperate in the operation, maintenance, support and training of the F-35 and P-8 fleets, with the Netherlands and Denmark for the F-35 component only. This is actually already quietly happening and should be strengthened wherever possible, perhaps with some contra deals on complex weapons and support for Denmark to join the P-8 club through shared logistics and training.

We might share the integration costs for the Kongsberg Joint Strike Missile (JSM) on P-8 with Norway and purchasing some for both the UK’s P-8 and F-35 fleet for example. In return, move Norway from AMRAAM to Meteor for their F-35 fleet. Complex weapons are probably a good area for this joint approach, certainly, as a joint force it would be more much more powerful for a relatively modest outlay.

It is ‘magnifying’ opportunities like this that would really make sense.

Putting operability in the North Atlantic environment for the RAF’s new Protector RPA’s including using them to complement the P-8 and F-35, as an airborne waveform translation node for example, should also be on the development path. The Zephyr High Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS) may also be used is another ongoing development project that might find utility in this difficult environment.

Together, the UK, Canada, Denmark, USA and Norway are building a maritime domain awareness belt across the North which will provide timely intelligence, this needs to be an investment priority.

Finally, putting some skin in the game means supporting Norway with their own defence.

To prevent Norway being used as a base from which to attack the UK, interdict shipping and prevent US reinforcements reaching Europe whilst providing the outer bastion defence area for their nuclear ballistic missile submarines, defending Norway is a NATO task.

It should be noted that Norway has not had an armed conflict with Russia for over a thousand years and has traditionally been quite friendly with Russia, historic and cultural links are good, and it maintains a careful balance of cooperation, friendliness and preparedness. As part of this balancing act, Norway did not allow the permanent basing of NATO forces so rapid reinforcement plans were at the centre of the Cold War strategy, and that remains today. But after the comparative calm of the post-Cold War period, Georgia and Ukraine changed Norway’s view of Russia entirely.

Norway’s recent defence strategy has resulted in a modest increase defence spending on cyber capabilities, plans for new aircraft, submarines and land forces. Missile defence cooperation with NATO, modernisation of the Globus-2 radar station at Vardø, new signals intelligence vessels, F-35 aircraft and Aegis systems on-board the Nansen class frigates are also key. In the land domain, Norway is currently upgrading their CV90 fleet, modernising other vehicles and considering options for heavier ground forces, a good summary can be found here. Trident Juncture 2018, a large scale NATO exercise, is scheduled to be in Norway.

Norway and the USMC are increasing cooperation; more training and a greater focus on the Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway (MCPP-N) for example. I don’t think the UK can match this level of personnel commitment but we can support and reinforce the joint air power element.

In addition to those proposals above, principally on developing our F-35 and P-8 fleets, this is where I believe the UK and Norway should focus our joint effort by helping Norway meet their defence objectives without compromising their delicate political balancing act in regards of Russia, and after all, we have to avoid assuming of Norway, permission is an obvious pre-requisite for anything. To keep the P-8’s flying, they and their basing location(s) have to be protected from air attack and raiding forces. To do this, the UK can usefully offer two capabilities that are politically low impact but in defence terms, very high impact.

First would be the ability to surge deploy aircraft to Norway from the UK mainland or from the QE aircraft carrier(s).

The RAF is very well practiced with expeditionary deployments at short notice with Typhoon but this capability needs to be preserved and expanded where required. Another possibility would be to use some of the UK’s future F-35B fleet to deploy to Norway in support of the Royal Norwegian Air Force. This could be to the same places as any future Typhoon deployment but exploiting the F-35B’s basing flexibility would provide a better suited complementary capability. Whether from the QE carrier or deployed to dispersed ‘road bases’ or smaller airfields, avoiding the small number of RNoAF fixed locations increases targeting complexities for Russian forces and improved survivability. Norway will be closing the Bodø Air Station as part of their F-35A bring into service plan because of noise and other concerns, this might be an ideal candidate for occasional deployments and forward basing as it is not completely closing.

Second would be force protection for deployed aircraft and crew.

Russian special-forces will be tasked with denying operating airbases and killing aircrew etc., infiltrating via Norway’s very long coastline or higher north using air landing. In a previous proposal, I suggested the Royal Marines evolve to more of a littoral security force, reducing in size, concentrating more on force protection and raiding and less on landings at scale. Joined with shallow water ASW, this is congruous with that proposal and is especially relevant for the Norwegian P-8 operating base(s) locations. An expanded role for the RAF Regiment would be to supplement Norwegian forces in the airfield defence role. Potentially, also a role for the Royal Artillery air defence units. Russian submarines have a demonstrable capability to launch cruise missiles and in a major war scenario they would be used to attack Norwegian (and UK) airfields. The NASAMS (Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System) would have obvious utility here (for Norway) although a joint purchase and a gun based system such as the Thales 40mm CTAS based RAPIDFire would be an excellent addition. Incidentally, the UK should also consider options for Land Ceptor and RAF Regiment personnel at the remote radar stations as they would be an obvious target.

The UK should also lobby for the new NATO Atlantic Command to be based in Scotland.

To summarise, in addition strengthening capabilities where appropriate, the UK’s approach to the Northern challenge should be focussed on maintaining pressure on 2% GDP and politically sensitive coordination and cooperation with allies on early warning, P-8/F-35 support, complex weapons and force protection. This plays to our strengths, meets political and some industrial objectives, exploits existing or planned capabilities and is above all else, achievable. Much of this is already happening but it is an area where the UK should be leading, it is our back yard after all.

The East

Despite the North having an increased element of geographic proximity for the UK, Eastern Europe and the Baltic States are arguably under greatest pressure. Finland and Sweden are not members of NATO but are in the EU; Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are in both, likewise the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. Regardless, all are increasingly concerned about the Russian threat and reacting accordingly. If Norway has some reluctance to be over antagonistic towards Russia, the Baltic States and the Visegrád Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), who all remember what it was like living under Russian occupation, are less reticent. Each one of those states has different political and industrial issues that shape how external and collective defence assistance can be rendered. Whilst Sweden and Finland might be only tentatively exploring greater co-operation with NATO, Latvia/Estonia/Lithuania are happy to host multi-national battlegroups.

Germany and Poland are much better geographically placed to provide security for the east of Europe, with the US and other European nations playing a supporting role, but German reluctance and some might say, strategic blindness, means this is still challenging, despite obvious warning signs from Russia and their improving capability. There are already many efforts in place to reduce Baltic and other Eastern European states dependence on Russian energy supplies but this infrastructure will be subject to Russian disruption, virtual, physical and political. The geographic depth of the Baltic States and the potential mismatch of forces there makes conventional defence very difficult.

What would an attack on this area look like?

It is worth recognising that a direct combined arms assault to annexe the Baltic States is less likely than a range of intimidation and disruptive activity that seeks to peel them away from NATO and prevents a quick and effective response. The potential for complexity and ambiguity is much greater than in the North which would seem to be of a more straightforward threat, this means the response must be equally complex and span a much wider spectrum.

In any major conventional operation, Russia would seek to prevent reinforcement by NATO forces. The Missile Threat website provides an excellent interactive mapping tool that plots Russian strike and air defence missile ranges on a map of Europe.

The challenges are obvious.

Iskander missiles fired Kalingrad Oblast and Russia/Belarus hold at threat any deployed forces and their logistic support in the Baltic States and most of Poland, including those included within the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence group. The important Lithuanian port of Klaipėda is also within conventional artillery and rocket distance. Bastion anti-ship missile systems could attack shipping that might be used for NATO reinforcements and cruise missiles used to attack. Russian offensive mining would also likely play a key role in denying the Baltic Sea to NATO shipping.

The border area between Poland and Lithuania is called Suwalki Gap and it has two major roads. The northernmost is the National Road 8 from the Czech border to Budzisko on the border with Lithuania as part of the international E67 route. To the south, the National Road 16, and there are a number of smaller crossing points. From Kalingrad Oblast the main northern route is well within the 50km range of the standard BM-30 Smerch rocket system which includes sub-munitions, HE and anti-tank mines. The longer range HE rocket has a 90km range, putting the southern main route within range.

The Russians have lots of Smerch rockets, lots.

The weather will also play a significant role, especially any spring thaw that produces lots of mud in an otherwise already marshy and wooded area. If the objective was more than harassment and denial a land assault from Belarus and Kalingrad would not have far to go.

The problem for defending the Baltic States therefore, is that Russia has loads of options and NATO has very few.

None of this is news, everyone recognises the geographic conditions and force mismatch in the Baltic States, everyone understands the essential role of the Suwalki Gap and everyone understands their needs to be a balance between deterrence, reassurance and practicality. NATO forces are exercising across the region, defence spending increasing and various strategies being put in place.

There has been a great deal of debate about what approach should be taken, some have pointed out that there is very little chance of NATO deploying enough force to adequately defend the Baltic States or the desirability of a counter attack force turning the whole area into a NATO/Russian battlefield that would create widespread destruction. Russia might have large forces but they cannot be everywhere and so keeping the pressure on in Ukraine and other areas has also been suggested as practical means of threat reduction by keeping its forces busy. Striking back at where Russia is weakest (Syria, South Ossetia and Crimea) may well be a sensible means of avoiding reducing the Baltic States to rubble but that does have many other complications.

The most sensible military strategy would seem to combine all these approaches, territorial defence, counter attack and applying pressure elsewhere, helping to increase the cost of Russian hostility such that it achieves deterrence and avoids inviting a strategic miscalculation by Moscow. Whilst we might talk in general terms about deterrence by territorial denial or deterrence by counter attack punishment, the question is what part the UK should play in what parts of the spectrum of conflict that range from high intensity combat to cyber-attacks to actions by ‘little green men’? The UK has approximately 800 personnel in Estonia based in Tapa and more in support of a US force in Poland as part of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence strategy.


RAF Typhoons also contribute to the NATO Southern Air Policing mission in Romania in addition to regular deployments to the Baltic States. Further south, the UK has also recently increased its support for the Kosovo peacekeeping mission.

The NATO Readiness Action Plan (RAP) will likely be reviewed in 2018 and there is a strong desire to strengthen the forces in the Baltics but as described above, the scope for this is limited and merely invites an escalatory response from Russia.

As with the northern Europe, the UK should develop a strategy based on the same pillars of leadership on spending, helping allies to help themselves and have skin in the game via multinational cooperation and partnerships. For the North, the best option seems to be a combination of air and sea, for the Baltic States and Eastern Europe, UK naval forces will be of much less utility.

Early warning will be provided by the full range of technical and human intelligence capabilities, persistent surveillance and developing a sufficient understanding of movements to recognise a movement for what it is. Early warning should be in receipt of significant funding across NATO because the battle in the Baltic States is all about time. The UK can contribute to this. Capacity building should ensure the existing forces in the area become disproportionately effective for their size in punishing an invading force. They are increasingly adopting a total defence approach, large reserves, unconventional forces, citizen action groups etc.

This should be a joint strategy as improving land, sea and air is definitely something the UK can offer significant assistance with. This needs to be genuine capacity building, not just a training course, it also needs industry involvement. A small example could be providing short range anti-armour weapons and training for example, the NLAW rocket in service with the British Army has considerable UK industry content so simply gifting or supporting an export loan for a large number of these would not only improve local forces but provide industrial benefits for the UK and other nations in the region, Finland and Sweden use it also. Javelin is also another obvious option although there would be little UK industry benefits.

Although there are many training and small capability generation opportunities there is also scope for a ‘big gesture’ or two.

By improving Baltic State air defences, they will be able to resource their own Air Policing and relieve NATO of the job. The proposal is to create a roadmap for all three Baltic States to generate a fast jet capability within 5 years. Lithuania and Latvia already operate light jet training/attack aircraft but something like an F-16, Typhoon or Gripen would be a big step up.

This is where the UK should come in.

We have a mature training pipeline, well-practiced engineering and logistics capability backed up with a large support industry. This would require significant financial, logistic and training resources but it should be a key UK objective and one that would have significant long term political and industrial benefits.

The UK should therefore commit to generating a joint Baltic air force including gifting surplus RAF Tranche 1 Typhoons and training air and ground crew in the UK’s Military Flying Training System (MFTS). RAF T1 Typhoons transferred to the joint force would be replaced with new Tranche 3 Typhoons. With Poland and Finland looking for new aircraft and the unique capabilities of Typhoon well suited to the kind of rapid off the ground air defence roles required, it would be no bad thing to generate a regional Typhoon force. Hardened aircraft shelters and force protection are also areas that the UK is well placed to assist with. Although the T1’s cannot use Meteor they are still a formidable aircraft.

The second ‘bold gesture’ should be maritime, specifically, mines countermeasures. The Baltic Sea has an average depth of only 50m and small, it is no place for large deep water naval forces but coastal and port mining are likely to be a significant part of any Russian aggression. Mines are cheap, easy to use and devastatingly effective. Estonia operates three ex Royal Navy Sandown class MCM vessels, Lithuania operates two ex Royal Navy Hunt class MCM vessels and Estonia, four ex Royal Netherlands Navy tripartite class MCM vessels.

There is already a good foundation but bringing the Hunt and Sandown vessels up to current RN standards would produce a good uplift in capability. Again, this would be a gift, in addition to providing additional training opportunities. As UK Hunt and Sandown vessels leave RN service they should be gifted to Latvia and Lithuania.

Both of these suggestions mean improving other nations defence capabilities whilst our own are under financial pressure but as part 1, prioritisation needs this kind of decision making and the wider industrial and political benefits of both should be considered in conjunction with defence issues.

Moving on to having skin in the game, the current UK presence in Estonia should remain although an argument exists for making it lighter and more mobile but bolstering its firepower.

Improving forces in Poland and the other Visegrád Group nations avoids, to some degree, antagonising Russia, and provides a powerful counter attack/concentration force that does not rely on tenuous to untenable reinforcement routes across the Baltic Sea. This needs to be engaged within 36 to 48 hours so it needs to be held at a very high readiness. It should maximise combat power and be mobile enough to move quickly over distance. The traditional means of achieving this mobility has been to go ‘medium’ with wheeled vehicles replacing tracks and taking a trade off in terms of tactical mobility and protection but in the face of Russian forces I don’t think this trade-off is wise. Instead, we need to improve the operational mobility of heavy tracked forces by over-provisioning heavy wheeled transporters.

To support rapid deployment, the force would need high levels of gap crossing, road repair and obstacle clearance capabilities. UK industry would also benefit as most of the equipment is available from UK sources. Pre-positioning in concealed locations near the Suwakli Gap, perhaps hiding in plain sight in ISO containers, would reduce transit time. The objective here is to make sure any damage caused by Russian forces is repaired in advance of the arrival of the response force or that road/bridge infrastructure damage is rendered irrelevant as new routes across rivers are created.

Force protection from the south to the north of Poland would require highly mobile forces, somewhat akin to the role that the Yeomanry provided during the Cold War. It also needs a powerful artillery and air defence component, backed with sufficient logistics strength and regular deployment exercises. Given combat aircraft are likely to be in short supply, long range precision artillery rockets can replace many CAS and Strike sorties.

Should this be a UK Division, no, in line with suggestions in Part 1 about doing fewer things well and now, I think we need to discard the illusion that the UK can establish a heavy divisional force against a peer enemy. A brigade on its own is not enough but a UK brigade in a US led Division is another.

The proposal therefore is to propose/influence the US to re-establish a heavy armoured force in Europe as part of a US led armoured division that includes an armoured brigade each from the UK, Poland and USA. Divisional enablers would be provided by all three to their strengths with other supporting capabilities provided by the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Hungary. Hungary for example has a fleet of very useful PTS amphibious transporter vehicles for river crossing and the Czech Republic, a force of very capable DANA 152mm self-propelled howitzers.

It should be permanently based outside Iskander range (see map above); southern Poland, Slovakia or the Czech Republic. Basing and the establishment of this force sends a powerful signal and binds the US to European defence but in the context of others providing equal and equitable contributions.

The resultant UK aspiration should therefore be to establish and maintain an armoured brigade at very high readiness as part of a wider US led force that includes the Visegrád nations and contributions to divisional enablers such as formation reconnaissance and combat engineering. Like the RN’s Carrier Strike capability, the British Army measures its prestige and position against others in its ability to field a combined arms armoured division. If the measure of blue water navy is the ability to maintain a fast jet capable carrier, a ‘proper’ army must have a heavy division. It would be a significant departure from the current Army 2020/2025 but we need to face facts and in terms of US interoperability I suspect they would prefer a self-sustaining and hard as woodpeckers lips brigade than a division of borrowers in 6 months with a prevailing wind.

This force would require adjusting the current teeth to tail ratio and perhaps even radical proposals such as withdrawing Warrior and replacing with Ajax, cancelling Strike and investing more in artillery, stand-off ATGW and ECM. (To be discussed in a future proposal)

Much like that for the North, deployment and dispersal exercises should be a regular feature for both the UK F-35B and Typhoon fleet, and yet another reason to resist any calls for splitting the fleet between the F-35B and F-35A. The UK should also ensure the current Typhoon/Brimstone integration programme includes the full ripple fire capability. NATO airpower is a significant threat to Russia, they know it, we know it, hence they have invested huge sums in anti-aircraft systems that now even the score, the F-35B and associated systems are key to keeping the threat to ground forces high.

Ukraine is a difficult challenge for the West, balancing the desire for de-escalation with the desire to secure Ukraine’s sovereignty is not easy. The UK has provided a combination of equipment and training and also benefited from Ukraine intelligence and operational analysis, the latter invaluable, especially in reminding NATO of just how effective Russian artillery is. What is certain is that despite its many problems, Ukraine is becoming a stronger state.

The UK should focus on smart partnerships, building partner capabilities with imaginative and bold solutions and contribute to a meaningful presence and response force including permanent basing in Poland or other Visegrád nations. This might mean consolidating equipment and adjusting force design to enable rapid deployment.

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30 Comments on "Towards #SDSR18 – Defending Europe"

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A really interesting and well thought out proposal. Would that our Government were so incisive and far sighted…
And thank you for your hard work, it’s much appreciated.


“To support rapid deployment, the force would need high levels of gap crossing, road repair and obstacle clearance capabilities. UK industry would also benefit as most of the equipment is available from UK sources. Pre-positioning in concealed locations near the Sulwaki Gap, perhaps hiding in plain sight in ISO containers, would reduce transit time. The objective here is to make sure any damage caused by Russian forces is repaired in advance of the arrival of the response force or that road/bridge infrastructure damage is rendered irrelevant as new routes across rivers are created.”

To wait till bridges across the Vistula are repaired would take weeks (months in the case of railroad bridges).
The UK is withdrawing its M3 Amphibian pontoon capability from Germany. That’s one really bad thing about the withdrawal:

BTW, it’s “Suwalki”, not “Sulwaki”.


BTW, there is no NATO minimum spending for military spending.
The 2% rule is no rule – it has no force or legitimacy at all. The legislative branches have the budget authority, but executive branches have faked a “commitment” to 2%. It’s a scam.

A NATO member can spend 1% GDP on military or 0% like Iceland does, and it’s perfectly legal and legitimate.

Chris Werb

My main concern would be Russian conventional cruise missile capability. They can now launch from iskander TELs in addition to corvettes, subs and bombers. Any defence plan has to take into account their use in significant numbers and a fair percentage hitting their intended targets. Potentially with little if any warning. They are now modifying older ssgns to carry large numbers of slcms. I think NATO needs a continuous at sea or randomly relocated surface launched conventionally armed deterrent force to counter this.


I don’t think NATO has a legislative branch, so the NATO summits will have to do. The target (2%, and also a minimum of a fifth of it towards equipment renewal) has been set in such a way, and the latest out comes can be found here, on p.2

@TD, I find the proposal for “North” quite well thought out (it is factoring in what we have and what we will have less of), whereas for “Central” or rather “North East” I think there are right elements there, but the simplest would be to maintain one of the heavier AI Bdes stationed in Germany, but rotating through training and, at bn level, shorter postings in the other countries shown on your map.
– we can still add, fairly rapidly, to that multi-national division a recce in force brigade thru Strike (when one is stood up, presumably in 2019) and other odds and sods, like what remains of the 16X (with some fiersome gurkhas, with fairly new maroon-colour headgear)


I think the idea of scaling to brigade expeditionary level ops rather than divisional level is very sensible. We should however really focus on maritime forces and in terms of Europe project sea control in the North Sea and North Atlantic.


Opinions on how NATO should defend Europe are like arseholes but…

There’s very little to disagree with here I think, deterrence is front and centre in the plan. There’s many ways to skin that particular goose and this is a very sensible and coherent way.

The strategic importance of Norway to the UK is clear, and having a counter-attack force in reserve that’s able to move against any Russian force whilst relatively intact again makes sense from a military perspective.

If I have a criticism it is that I think the temptation would be to move the division forward if there was a period of tension since it would be an obvious escalation and deterrence move by NATO as part of a crisis. So there is a real risk here that military common sense would be overridden by a political requirement to move the heavy division forward as a signal of reassurance to the Baltic states. Or the opposite could be true, and there is a military need to over-match localised Russian forces and the move of the division would threaten to escalate a crisis. It’s the classic dilemma of do you have the Panzer Divisions behind the beaches or far in the rear?

If I was the Russians I’d do my best to lure it forwards during the crisis phase either as a casus-belli or to ensure its swift destruction and dismantling of NATOs ability to take back the initiative.


@Chris Werb

Read an interesting paper about how Russian conventional precision strike (mainly via cruise missiles) is considered to be a non-nuclear escalation option that could deliver (in terms of damage on intended targets rather than explosive power) the damage of a nuclear strike. I think that’s a very interesting idea. A sort of “shock and awe” on a truly staggering scale but absent all the nonsense about it frightening leaders into surrender and focusing on actual damage.


The UKs priority should be to defend the existence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of the UK, NATOand overseas territories. To protect its inhabitants and to combat all forms of terrorism which threaten our daily life. We need to get NATO to move away from thinking it is a global police force and return to its core mission, Defence and integrity of the NATO border.

The UKs commitment to its wider global commitments should be seen as being a small scale contribution of niche specialist capabilities. ISTAR a/c, SF, transport a/c, mine warfare, engineering, training for example.

In defending Europe it should be remembered we entered WW2 ultimately under the pretext of Germany invading Poland, in the end we never lifted a finger to help the poles and left them under the soviet occupation Likewise the Norway campaign in the war was an abject failure by the RN it must beresourced and trained for, with the appropriate equipment, if we are not to repeat the mistakes of history!

It should noted Sweden has conducted some very large scale exercises and we were regular contributors to Norway expertise’s in the past it sticking to see nothing of any note was or has been contributed of late as budgets have all been cut to pay for an over ambitious equipment program.

Enhancing our partnership with the Nordic countries is something to be encouraged we can learn a great deal from them with many opportunities in Sweden/Denmark in the areas of AEW aircraft replacement, sigint a/c replacement and even an expansion into an EW a/c or systems development something European nations lack. The swedes are extremely capable in data links and development and fielding of this to connect any future force would be ideal.

It is somewhat of a shame we never went CV90 with many variants in the army ideal parteners in Nordic countries to late to start over? Maybe even look to Finland they need new fighters we need new vehicles typhoon for Patria AMV perhaps. Good place to support fwd deployment of typhoons.

I agree that we will need to deploy reasonably quickly across mainland Europe a brigade formation sticking with the old method of tanks on transporters over the 8×8 option or variations off has a few draw backs imo. If the Russians were surging west then I would suspect that large numbers of Civilans will be rushing this way to get out of the fighting significantly impeding our ability to to go east rapidly. Second the Russians aren’t silly they would likely have deployed irregular forces well ahead of any advance they could very well use the fleeing civilians as cover to launch attacks on our convoys heading east to meet the advancing force protection of convoys of tank transporters will be much more difficult than self supporting wheeled formations.


The Russians won’t surge west. They surge SE from Kalingrad to Kiev and NW from Kiev to Kalingrad. This is how they will annex Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in a single move.

Anyone heard from Belarus lately?

So, Phil, agree. Lure forward Europe’s military into defending the Baltic states directly and then cut them off.

Can only be done with sea control of the Baltic. I doubt we need MPA or the Royal Navy to avoid this. Perhaps we should just spend our money on a useless bunch of 8x8s instead?


The NATO summit may set the budget for NATO – the bureaucracy in Bruxelles. It cannot set the budgets of the member states. In fact even if the treaty had such a provision it would be ineffectual because of the national constitutions.

About the SLCMs; SLCMs (and they could be launched by containerships in the hundreds) are quite a headache. Think about how many Typhoons and Rafales and precious air defence battery radars could be blown up in an hour, in addition to Oder and Vistula bridges. Additionally, all Polish F-16s are in range of Iskander.

The expense for such a capability would be less than a billion EUR and very little personnel would need to know about an impending surprise attack, but this could knock out 50+ % of European air war capability and cause huge logistical problems.

This, BTW, is one of the reasons why I don’t place any emphasis on investments in German air power.


TD, the point is that the countries DID NOT COMMIT. The executive branch top politicians signed without having any authority on the matter and knowing that it was a nonsense paper. That’s no commitment – that’s writing a meaningless paper.

Here’s my standard story to explain it:

The hairdressers of your country hold a conference and commit that in each and every city and county every inhabitant shall get a 50 € haircut every week. They didn’t have the authority to make such a commitment because they’re the ones who GET the money, not the ones who ALLOCATE the money, but who cares? All cities and counties of your country committed to 50 € haircuts for everyone, every week, right? Or didn’t they?

The waiters at those NATO summits had exactly as much authority to commit those countries to spend a whopping 2% GDP as did the participating politicians. Those commitments are fake, a racket, a fabricated tool of deceptions. They don’t withstand the slightest plausibility tests either, just think about how Iceland -which has no military and no intention to raise one – supposedly made those “commitments”, too!

And what did those pols have to lose? Being part of the German executive branch first and foremost, giving those Americans some paper to wave around and pressure the German legislative branches into handing over more money plays right into their cards, at no downside whatsoever. The MoD won’t be blamed for not reaching 2% GDP; after all, the executive branch does not pass the budget and they’re in on the racket!

Folks who want to see more military toys, want to be more proud of their nation’s military the simple way et cetera want bigger military budgets. Those are the folks who cling to the fiction of the 2% rule even after it was debunked by force of the constitution.

BTW, the 2006 origin is a (widespread) myth. I looked into that. The 2014 NATO summit had such language.

Looks like post-Brexit UK is to tilt towards Scandinavia in more ways than one. Are the priorities anti-sub & anti cruise missile, & reinforcing Norwegian air bases fast (maybe with V22 Osprey)?


Great Article and certainly thought provoking. I agree with much but would offer the following observations:

Agree we should take the lead for the Northern flank – but this means we should exit the southern region to other NATO key players.

I dont think we should pre-position apart from the Northern flank, we should be re-inforcements and let Europe step up more.

I think we should concentrate on missiles and Air Assets and for our strike brigades – if speed is an issue it seems to me 8×8 tracked backed up by a large force of Apaches is probably preferable and more valuable to allies than a heavy armour division.

I also think that NATO’s strategy of conceding land mass whilst they regroup is appropriate – it is after all what Russia has done to its enemies down the centuries. The problem for NATO is does it have the will to take land back once it has lost it – history dictates not.


@ Simon Costain, RE post-Brexit UK is to tilt towards Scandinavia in more ways than one.
– what are the other ways (than defence)?

Actually, some v interesting defence-industrial projects were already listed here for consideration, but I took your comment to be on a broader front.

A. Salmon was propagating the Nordic connection for so long that the Nordic Council actually had to take a stand – that an independent Scotland would not be able to join because the links (cultural, language, economic…) are not close enough
– just anecdotal evidence


@pacman, I agree with the type of force best suited. Contrary to received wisdom, we should have any Chally 2s (where they can be deployed to , both quickly enough and terrain-wise) in penny packets… welcome back, infantry support tank
– which also means that we should go straight to 50+ Apaches, not the “interim” 30+ as now looks likely

I’ve noted that UK reserve units have been in Norway, practising logs support to other forces in the very challenging terrain
– welcome: the proper implementation of the Whole Force concept
– also making virtue out of vice: leveraging our helicopter force, which is unduly tilted towards the heavy end (the Nordics only have “medium” at their disposal)

What else could we turn upside down? tanker support to the AFs in the Nordic area is already regularly practised… and the forces there are becoming more and more NATO compliant in their kit
– no more Gripens just standing on the tarmac (which happened when they were deployed for the Libya intervention… and could not use the NATO type of jet fuel!


Also another idea: Merge or coordinate the Force Protection units: RAF Regiment, 43 Commando, certain RMP units into one big Joint Force Protection cell.


Excellent article, thanks. Let’s hope the UK MOD approach contains as much even handed analysis……
A couple or 3 points

(1) The NATO 2% pledge is only a symbolic measure; I think the argument about its binding nature (or not) is a red herring. Even the Article V “collective defence” wording gives individual nations the choice to support “as they deem necessary” and is therefore equally non-binding…. I am not saying for a moment that a blunt 2% input measure makes sense, but it sends out a signal if you decide not to adhere.

(2) Early warning, surveillance and airspace management is key to a number of areas. One area to watch will be the UK’s approach to the future NATO Airborne Surveillance and Control (AFSC) project will be interesting. This is the NATO AWACs-replacement scheduled around 2035. Whether or not the UK joins (its current E-3s are outside the NATO force) the AFSC project is an opportunity for non-US NATO Allies to commit to a complex, highly symbolic project while supporting (if it so chooses) mainly European contractors not necessarily Boeing.

(3) I think the UK has insufficient political capital in NATO to get the vote for any new Maritime HQ, and if it is interested then any lobbying is very low key.


I am all for a single UK force structure built around 4 standing divisions (all assets inc. land, Cyber, Naval and Sea), 2 Expeditionary Carrier Battle Groups and a large integrated central logistics, command and control HQ Corp.

All in this would need a 10% uplift in manpower to do properly, but would benefit from large reduction in management overhead (senior ranks) and joint logistics and support.

I also think each Division (30k personnel) or CBG should have a super base assigned to it – such as sennybridge, thetford, aldershot,catterick, Salisbury, Lossiemouth etc, as their main base with other smaller brigade level and specialist bases assigned dependant upon standing tasks and needs.

The Russians have actually shown us the way – they have modernised towards their inherent and historical strengths and regenerated capabilities where they can do so cost effectively or where the absolutely must.

We should do the same and build up our cyber and counter insurgency forces as a matter of urgency.


I’ve mulled this over for a few days now predominantly because I could only see the proposal as a reason to have an expeditionary military that we don’t need.

Mitigating against NATO failing is very important right now. However, I can see it happening as America puts America first and the UK people put the UK first, etc… oh, and as those that saw the great wars leave this Earth.

Therefore having JEF+ and a new EUDF as the phoenix from the flames may be a blessing in disguise as it will make the European land powers step up to TD’s “The East” task and perhaps terminate the loggerheads France and the UK suffer. JEF can then concentrate on North, Norwegian, and Baltic maritime domains which will be their AOI.

I also think we need to work on bringing the lands of Ire, Ice and Green into JEF… without undermining the remnants of NATO or the birth of an EUDF.

Therefore I agree wholeheartedly with 50% of this excellent article :-)


If you are going to poke the bear with a stick in his own neighbourhood, then the UK had better invest in at least one battery of high end SAM, such as THAAD, or AEGIS Ashore. For the protection of blighty from Vlad’s missiles, or the blackmail thereof.
Why anti F-35A? F-35B only makes sense for the UK carriers. Any RAF roles ashore are better done by F-35A. It is higher G, with inbuilt gun, longer range & twice as big internal bombs. Also cheaper.
Protecting Europe will depend on the Brexit deal. If its good, then UK defending Europe will be an easy sell. If the EU stitches Britain up, then good luck on the doorstep to any politician trying to say UK troop lives should be risked to save Europe.


The F-35 A only makes sense if you are going to buy them in large numbers. As it stands the benefits the A brings are massively offset by the splitting of the fleet and the loss of interoperability of the FAA and RAF.

The “cheaper” factor also gets lost when you realise that you will effectively have to duplicate your training, supply, repair etc chains for 2 versions of the F-35.

In short splitting the (already small) buy of F-35’s between the A and B version would be a disaster.


The more fundamental question is does the UK require more than the 48 f35 currently on order. If we take the priority to be defence of Europe and the NATO border then the answer is realistically no.


Furthermore, if we had the choice of F35A or F35B to defend Europe then would we really go for the A or would we want the “flexible basing” as TD puts it, of the B. F35B with Spear3 and Meteor deployed to a FOB working with Apache for anti-armour and anti-IADS makes a lot of sense.


I’m going to say something that looks weird, but Russia is only a scarecrow, a conflict against Russia would end up with nuclear strikes, it’s absurd, Putin is not crazy, he’s very intelligent even, he understands only the balance of power and it is obvious that it would not attack three nuclear powers like the United Kingdom, France and especially the USA. Russia’s conflict with NATO is unlikely, but Russia wants the respect of the Russian minorities in the countries forming the former USSR, as well as its strategic interests, it is obvious that if in Ukraine, for example, the government forbids to speak Russian at school all over the country, Putin considers it like a provocation, and if Ukraine enters NATO, it is a declaration of war.
It is not Russia that is dangerous, but the fact that the US still considers Russia as an enemy country, and tries to get as many countries of the former Soviet bloc into NATO as possible.

Bang on , excuse the pun! Putin wants to show strength against NATO but does not want conflict with it. Russia still had nightmares about controlling a tiny country like the Chechen Republic , 1.4 million population , yes 1,400,000 and a massive f**king headache!
Back on track the 227 Challenger 2’s available ( , )
with some on permanent basing at BATUS and leaving a few in Wiltshire the rest need to be moved to the East along with almost all other heavy tracked vehicles and buy lots and lots of heavy wheeled transporters based local to them to be used ala the Voyager fleet , free issue to local firms with a controlled availability plan in place.

I think the most dangerous scenario is a snap annexation of Baltic countries by Russia, it can destroy NATO as an organisation. If there are so much problem with transportation armed to the region, maybe the solution is to have enough armed forces there in advance? If western countries do not want their own forces to be there and to look “provocative” and “unfriendly” :) they could urge the Baltic countries to create their united armed forces around 50,000 and support financially it’s quick development. That armed forced do not need air forces and navy (I hope NATO will provide them in the case of conflict) so that is not a hugely expensive task.


Whilst the UK can put small Army units in the Baltics, would putting anything larger (say brigade level) make any difference to an improbable Russian invasion. If they invade it is purely down to whether NATO has the balls for full out war. Spending valuable UK defence funds on providing pointless (IMO) medium scale Army presence is the wrong priority.

Better would be to say to our European neighbours – you cover the continent and we’ll cover controlling the North Atlantic with the USN and RCN against Russian Subs and keeping the SLOCs open.