The RUSI paper: A Force For Honour generated a lot of discussion on the web given the general interest in the Future Defence Review and how that will guide Britain’s strategic future, a notable example of which was the Think Defence series on the FDR.
Think Defence has written a great many discussion papers and other Defence related articles, all of which are interesting, most of which I find insightful and otherwise agree with, but I cannot say the same about their conclusion to the RUSI paper:
FDR – Raiding, Nation Building or a Bit of Both
The Global Strike Option might seem to be the most sensible and attractive because it provides for a continuation of the heavy metal conventional war fighting stance that supports the need for aircraft carriers, significant air transport and other expeditionary capabilities in a traditional NATO envelope. We would only get involved in conflicts of choice and for a short duration, manning and harmony guidelines could be adhered to, casualties would be reduced and operational expenditure eliminated; Happy DaysIt could be reasonably argued that the state on state conflict as characterised by the first Gulf War is less likely, even inter state conflict is likely to involve irregular or asymmetric opponents. Most nations know full well they can’t hope to defeat a concerted NATO style all arms capability. Therefore configuring forces for these lower intensity ‘conflict amongst the people’ type operations would seem to be a reasonable and wise choice. Aircraft carriers, fast jets and Challenger tanks would give way to light forces, mentoring and other COIN type capabilities.
Is the answer a combination of the first 3 options, taking Option 2 as a major element but retaining a reduced size ‘global raid’ or expeditionary capability, perhaps scaling this so that we can contribute decisively in coalition operation (Option 3)
This would translate as a reduced size but fully capable core with a larger and more suited to COIN operations, outer.
Would this be feasible or sensible?
In short; no.
Combining Options 1, 2 and 3 is effectively what the Strategic Defence Review 98 specified, and evening dressing it up by removing carriers, tanks and some fast jets, doesn’t change the fact that it could barely be afforded on a stable increasing budget of 2.7% of GDP (2.7% GDP growth per year), and even reduced it simply can not be afforded on a budget that represents 2.1% of GDP, especially given the current lack of economic growth (cos defence inflation is a bitch).
The whole point of the RUSI report was that trying to achieve SDR under the present funding constraints would inevitably lead to Britain’s Armed Forces being a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none, and the purpose of the paper was to find a way of preserving Britain’s Great Power Status under the current funding paradigm. It would be death by a thousand cuts to continue as we are now, starting with ones like these:
A record 80 training exercises were cancelled last year while the number of British troops in Helmand reached 10,000.
Figures show that the number of exercises conducted in the past three years fell by almost 30 per cent, dropping from 646 in 2008 to 462 last year. Meanwhile, the number of cancellations rose from 58 in 2006 to a high of 80 last year.
It is quite obvious that more money is needed simply to cover day-to- day costs, such as training and spares.
Senior officers have spoken out over the shocking state of military accommodation, while the overstretched forces are having to cut back on training exercises because of severe budget problems.
A planned visit to the USA by a Royal Navy carrier group led by the Ark Royal and RAF participation in Nato air defence exercises are among a number of high-profile plans to be axed.
The move has been ordered by Bob Ainsworth, defence secretary, as part of his insistence that the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces are put on a full war footing to deal with Afghanistan.
I could understand Think Defence opting for Global Guardian as their preferred strategy, it is a viable Great Power strategy achievable under the current funding paradigm and they are fairly army-centric after all, but even then I would disagree because there are other nations that could provide the significant and sustained COIN capability, and we have always been a naval nation that loves swift and decisive victories.
Mix-n-match isn’t an option.