The SDSR and why the choice of a maritime or a land doctrine is necessary

Article commissioned by Critical Reaction, a website on politics, culture and books.

“To understand why we have ended up with the SDSR we have, we need to see how these pressures came to be arranged just so. Doing so also explains why a fundamental strategic choice is necessary for Britain. We then to realistically see what the structural impacts of such a choice will be, and where this will leave Britain’s world role as a result. Britain’s armed forces will be transform over the course of the next five years, and that process will be governed by the SDSR, whether or not it has been the worthy exercise it could have been………………”

My thanks to the Critical Reaction team for the opportunity to write for their excellent site.

Continue reading ‘The SDSR and why the choice of a maritime or a land doctrine is necessary’

29 responses to “The SDSR and why the choice of a maritime or a land doctrine is necessary

  1. Interesting analysis, lots to think about. I like your answer, which has to be the correct one, for reasons more numerous than the basic eu-us argument you presented.


  2. Nicely done; I’m pleased to see you finding a broader audience and, in this case, one that points out your talents to your (roughly) ideological peers.

    I see the wailing and gnashing of ensigns has gone up in force at TD and the Warships board over all the frantic crazy leaking at the moment, much of which not only contradicts recent statements (as you pointed out) but fails to make logical sense. Of course that also fits with the Ant and Dec clique being militarily as well as economically illiterate. But I suspect it’s mostly more chances to set off the “WE’RE DOOOOMED!” gene that resides deep in the English gene pool (the Scots, to their credit, usually think they’re doomed but fight it out anyway.) Wonder which of the genetic ancestors we can blame for that? I’d go for the Swedes, but not enough of them seem to have actually settled here.

    • You are very kind to say so, but the number of carrier related articles in the telegraph in the last 16 hours is disturbing, for not only does it contradict Fox’s eminently sensible statement that both would do as their title implies; fly combat aircraft, but it also goes against my maxim of maintaining strategic capabilities in a permanent manner.

      Having one carrier would be a very poor decision, not least on value for money grounds given that they cost only £44m/year to operate allegedly.

  3. OK, just reread the column and it’s actually better the second time :)

    Glad to see things have simmered down a bit at the Warships board. There seems to be more skepticism, flexibility, and less despair than presently at TD. Of course I have the advantage of enjoying the evening in a different part of the world, with a night’s sleep ahead before plunging into the (temporary and assuredly weasely) results of the “Strategic Defence Review.” That by itself is misleading: even the most outrageous current versions of the carriers story mean they’re hanging onto it long enough to change their minds, and have therefore proved it’s possible (only if the rumours are right) that it’s possible to be even more mendacious and shifty than The Tony. What this whole process clarifies for me is not just the “maritime” point of view and its virtues — you can even oppose that and agree on the second item, namely fighting to bull this “SDSR” aside in favour of something purposeful and definite. Again, internet politics didn’t exist the last time ’round in 1998, at least not really. Let’s make that matter this time. You, of course, with an “in” now to a portion of the largest governing party, are well placed to do that. And for the nation’s benefit I wish you luck.

    • “That by itself is misleading: even the most outrageous current versions of the carriers story mean they’re hanging onto it long enough to change their minds”

      This is my hope, that it is a misinterpretation, with the reality that whilst we have so small an airgroup we will operate only one, thus mothballing QE temporarily when PoW arrives.
      This is also why i have never been keen on cat-n-trap, because it is too easy not to spend the money on fitting both carriers with the equipment to operate fast jets, whereas Stovl is pretty much automatic in providing a two carrier capability.

      “You, of course, with an “in” now to a portion of the largest governing party, are well placed to do that. And for the nation’s benefit I wish you luck.”

      I think CR would argue that their raison-d-etre is precisely because conservative thought has been excluded from the tory party as a result of Cameron and the Coalition.
      Then again, while I have my pronounced sympathies which you apparently so readily recognised, I consider myself a classical liberal as much as anything else.

      • Well, there’s plenty of room in the modern Conservative Party (and that’s “modern” for values of “after Disraeli”) for classical liberals. As a matter of fact, for much of the time since then it’s been a fairly natural home for the right-hand side of classical liberalism. This, of course, much to the Liberal Party’s decay and dismay.

  4. …all pragmatic stuff – only really dodgy wicket appears the Nimrod call; best we aquire some alternate persistant ISTAR pronto.

  5. 5x Mutlirole Brigades
    1x Air Assault Brigade
    1x Marine Brigade

    1x CVF (second only in extended readiness)
    1x LPH (if only we had two)
    1x LPD (second only in extended readiness)
    3x LSD (real shame they are decommissioning a Bay)

    19x Destroyer/Frigates (could have been a lot worse)
    XXx C3 (no, i don’t believe the program has disappeared)

    all in all, its not a million miles away from what i would have wanted anyway, and a lot of the deficit is only moth-balled (and brand new) rather than turned into razor-blades.

    not totally unhappy, and impressed with Fox for keeping the cuts to ~8%, this could have been a LOT worse!

  6. Could have been oh so worse. The good thing is that by not cancelling the CVFs, we have so many more options at the next defence review in 5 years. Despite the shocking histronics displayed by the buffoon Paxman on last nights newsnight and much bleating from phalanxes of myopic punditry, the carrier issue has been handled well; conventional carriers mean cheaper de-(less)risked JSF (and makes Harriers, essentially, redundant anyway), the option of FR and US aircraft operating from them, means we can conduct some useful, concurrent training activity while we wait for our JSF – and if JSF goes belly up we still have a cat and hook platform which allows the purchase of a budget conventional CAG – sensible pragmatism. If things go as planned, we will hopefully be fair set to re-invest in sound Strategic-Raid (SR) capability after 2015, nearer, or at a sensible exit point in Afghan, with our prime SR asset already in place – CVF.

    The RAF issue is still a bit of a botch – I would have chopped the Tornado fleet for the sake of 8x GR4 in theatre (NATO has planty of Fast Air) and used the money saved to sort out the mess that is Typhoon and concentrate on the timely arrival of Taranis and other persitant ISTAR capability to fill the huge gap left by Nimrod – unless I’m missing something, the nuke boats must be feeling oh so much more vunerable? Also would still like to see High Wycombe cut to size, with just one ‘operational’ group.

    Can someone clarify what is happening to Lusty? I assume that either it or Ocean will be placed in extended readiness as the alternate LPH?

      • That reduced fleet (1/2) is to maintain a standing footprint of 8x FJ at KAF, turnabout with the CAS capable Typhoon; we should just kick the GR4 into touch and let another NATO player fill the gap at KAF when the Typhoon is not available – this issue is not about capability it’s about politics (internal RAF and external) – too many 20 minuters at HQ AIR. In a decades time most of our young blades will becoming towards the end of their useful flying career – as long as we retain the flexibility within the fg trg system we can surge (if we need too) IDC. I just dont buy the need to retain GR4 as a cabbage patch for JSF drivers. AIR has enough on its plate just trying to grip Typhoon and the tanker and transport fleet, without wasting time and resources on a obsolecant GR4 fleet that is increasingly unservicable and lacks spares.

  7. Awesome stuff as always, I can only say that I still disagree, “Go First, Go Fast, Go Home” is a valid strategy without either an occupation force of your own, or of willing Frenchmen.

    Not actualy the best list I admit, but there are plenty of others throughout history, where the goal has been to extract concessions or change attitudes, rather than occupy mud.

      • Must stop editing

        Go First, Go Fast, Go Home is fine without an allied occupation force.

        Provided you dont topple the current government or dont care who replaces it.
        Think about Israels two most recent wars, neither ended with any territory occupied or governments toppled, but both did end with foreign governments who think ill of allowing their territory to be used for rocketry.

        Would Gadaffi have armed the IRA a second time if two dozen Tornadoes had launched from Gibralter and hammered his personal residences and air defences following the first shipment?

        We shouldnt actualy care what he does in his own country, as long as it doesnt affect us.

  8. Great piece… the last paragraphs were particularly poignant as it is basically a situation where the US is afraid of the UK leaving its subservient position and working out a strategy for itself. Clearly both on a global and a European level the UK’s “comparative advantage” is in naval projection. The UK should be primus inter pares amongst European navies and build us a global “string of pearls” strategy using its territories (and some of those the French have left) as naval bases. While regional threats exist in various parts of the globe, the response from the UK to these (if the US demands a partner on hand) would be for the UK to provide the gunboat diplomacy part of the “assault”. Speaking brutally maybe 3/4 of the world’s nations are not in the position to do very much if a naval force turns up off their coast and starts lobbing shells “pour encourager les autres”.

    The threat that dare not speak its name is obviously China, and a combined naval force should be able to pen the Chinese into the Pacific and that should be the unspoken strategic goal of a revived Royal Navy strategy. To achieve denial of the Atlantic to the Chinese, the South Atlantic is vital and the Falklands sit very well positioned to block passage around Cape Horn and project farther east to the Cape of Good Hope.

    • Thank you.

      I agree on the string of pearls, britain is uniquely placed at most of the worlds choke-points:

      Gib and Cyprus at either end of the med, the Falkland on good hope, and the FPDA in the Malacca strait.

      This without mentioning our own position in the G-I-UK gap, our Carribean possessions, and the various close relationships with Oman and Bahrain.

      We could make europe an effective actor, I just believe it will be at its most effective where a collection of bilateral and multilateral agreements meet common purpose.

      • We should sell the Americans Diego Garcia for an outrageous sum of money… then develop some sort of base on one of the other atolls in that IOD system… then we should buy or do a very long lease on Fanning in the Pacific…. The Kiribatians are desperate now they have lost their cruise business..

        As for bilateral I think the French would be very interesting to cultivate a relationship with their own string of pearls.. The other European navies could be persuaded to go farther afield and use these bases…(or at least the Atlantic ones)..

        Denial of the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean to “potentially malevolent forces” would be the goal.. without rattling the cage too overtly…

      • I agree.. all symbolic and would be more of a “coaling station” to use the historic parlance ….

      • Let the cold war begin….

        Fanning is just far enough a way from China to signal the Pacific is still an interesting area for us.. but with reduced risk of becoming a Pearl Harbour-like danger… we have Australian and NZ ports nearer in… there never was any action to make up for losing Hong Kong.. MoD presumably hoped no one noticed there was no foothold any more..

        Fanning interestingly enough was on the All Red Line cable route..

        A Germans ship (the Nurnberg) shelled the cable station in 1915 on the way to shell Papeete then headed to the battle of Coronel.

      • Hawaii is not ours…dependency is part of the problem… its all in the optics.. I am not suggesting spending any serious money anyway..

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