Failing to fund your strategic vision – Oh no, it’s happened again!

Ignore the detail of the leaked letter from Fox to Cameron regarding the sorry state of the SDSR, the single most important conclusion to draw is that once again a British government is endangering the Armed Forces by creating a new strategic direction and then refusing to fund Defence at a level sufficient to drive the vision.

This is not helped by differences of opinion in how an “Adaptable” Armed Forces should be configured.

An excerpt of that letter is quoted below:

“Frankly this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Strategy Review) and more like a “super CSR” (Comprehensive Spending Review). I am very grateful to Peter Ricketts and Jeremy Heywood for the help they have given officials who have worked strenuously to bridge a gap that is, financially and intellectually virtually impossible. I am concerned that we do not have a narrative that we can communicate clearly. On 22 July the NSC endorsed the ‘Adaptable Britain’ posture because we decided that it was impossible to predict what conflict or global security scenarios may emerge in the years ahead. That meant ensuring the maintenance of generic defence capability across all three environments of land, sea and air – not to mention the emerging asymmetric threats in domains such as cyber and space –with sufficient ability to regenerate capability in the face of these possible future threats were it required.”

At the time of the SDR 98 the Defence budget occupied 2.7% of GDP during a period of rapid economic growth, it was a stretch, but if this budget priority coexisted with continued growth then the vision was indeed viable. This was not to be case however; the Defence budget slipped from 2.7% of GDP in 1997 to 2.2% in 2008, then the recession arrived which killed the economic growth that allowed for capability cost growth, and finally the poorly funded war in Afghanistan was paid for by hacking yet more chunks out of the Defence budget in December 2009. In short, SDR 98 isn’t happening now and was never truly sustainable.

The result has been exposed in the Gray report where we learn that the Defence budget is underfunded by 10% each year for the next decade already, to which we must add 10% Treasury imposed cuts, on top of which must be added a further circa 5% cut from forcing the acquisition costs of the Trident replacement into the Defence Budget.

As RUSI noted in the fifth FDR paper; Capability Cost Trends, we no longer have the option of operating as a US-lite mini superpower, capable of sovereign & strategic power projection across a broad spectrum of capabilities. We must now choose.

The NSC considered three possible basic strategic postures for Britain: ‘vigilant’, ‘adaptable’ and ‘committed’. The first would lower ambitions considerably, while the third is broadly equivalent to the ambitions of SDR98. The chosen option was the middle ground, given that the former was deemed unpalatable and the latter unaffordable, and it essentially commits Britain to being a force in the world, i.e. heavily involved in geo-politics though over a much smaller spectrum and with greater input from multilateral partners.

These three postures correlate surprisingly well to the RUSI doctrines from their first FDR paper:

0) The SDR 98 – i.e. we maintain our ability to operate as a US-lite mini superpower, capable of sovereign & strategic power projection across a broad spectrum of capabilities, an example of which would be the continued ability to conduct enduring theatre level operations out-of-area, and mount medium scale assaults via amphibious in conjunction with expeditionary forces.

This is the NSC Committed posture

1) The Global Guardian Doctrine – i.e. we maintain our ability to mount large scale theatre level operations out-of-area, examples of which would be Desert Storm and Afghanistan, including protracted COIN operations.

This is the NSC Adaptable posture

2) The Strategic Raiding Doctrine – i.e. we maintain our ability to mount medium scale assaults via amphibious/naval capability in conjunction with rapid-reaction/expeditionary forces, examples of which would be the Falklands Conflict and Sierra Leone.

This is the NSC Adaptable posture

3) The Contributory Doctrine – i.e. we would lose any possibility for national autonomy for intervention operations, as we would be dependent on other nations for the capabilities that had been surrendered, but we would concentrate on specialist capabilities and command and control of coalition operations. We would be in a similar position to 19th century Britain with its colonial levies; able to provide C4ISTAR or specialist functions to multinational operations.

This is the NSC Adaptable posture

4) The Gendarmerie Doctrine – i.e. we lose all ambition to high intensity warfare outside of our own national borders, and capable only of providing light weight peace-keeping forces for multinational operations. We would be in a similar position to Belgium or Denmark.

This is the NSC Vigilant posture

Where the RUSI doctrines and NSC postures differ is on the matter of sovereign capability, or Great Power status, for while the Committed posture clearly does represent sovereign & strategic power projection the Adaptable posture chosen is more flexible in that it concerns itself with principally with strategic capability.

However, both Cameron and Hague have made it quite clear that they reject the assumption of the all-party Green Paper (and the IPPR report) that Britain will in future only engage in serious war fighting  as part of a coalition, so essentially they are admitting that of the three potential doctrinal variants of the “Adaptable” posture only Global Guardian and Strategic Raiding doctrines are serious options. The Contributory doctrine is clearly desirable, the ability to act as a multilateral spine around which theatre-level operations can be conducted is useful to EU ambitions within NATO (europe), and also the wider coalitions-of-the-willing that are deemed to be a feature of future geo-politics, but it remains an adjunct to sovereign British capability.

The key to the problem here is again found in the fifth RUSI FDR paper; the absolute warning against trying to remain both a maritime and a land power for trying do so on a budget of £35 billion will require that both be so watered down that neither will represent a strategic capability, which would be fine if we were happy to remain a Contributory power but that option is supposedly off the table anyway. Sadly, this is exactly the situation we find ourselves in for Cameron is focused on Afghanistan and the US desire to retain a partner to shoulder the burden of future COIN operations, whereas Fox is looking beyond Afghanistan and instead opting for a more narrowly focussed sovereign capability designed to meet Britain’s ‘local’ interests around the globe.

The result is that the Prime Minister is leaning towards a land-centric doctrine such as RUSI’s Global Guardian, whereas the Defence Secretary is sympathetic to a maritime doctrine similar to RUSI’s Strategic Raiding, and all parties are becoming increasingly aware the compromises are resulting in exactly the kind of fudge that the fifth FDR paper warned against. Unless one side gives way we will end up with an army unable to sustain division sized operations of enduring character, a Navy incapable of  projecting power into the onto land and over the littoral environment, and an Armed Forces poorly configured to act as a multilateral C4ISTAR spine around which to build multilateral operations.

Graphic illustrations of of the nature of the fudge that Think Defence also warned against include:

An Army that will on current suggestions shrink to 95,000 personnel, with the probable implication that the number of deployable combat brigades will shrink from nine to six (including the RM brigade), how is this force structure capable of sustaining large scale theatre level operations out-of-area? Global Guardian if properly implemented would probably require land-forces totalling closer to 120,000, capable of maintaining ten combat brigades and thus sustaining a division in theatre persistently.

A Navy that will on current suggestions shrink to 30,000 personnel, which will get to keep its carriers given that they have become totemic but see the Amphibious Reaction Group (ARG) gutted and the escort fleet decimated, how is this force structure capable of deploying, inserting, and sustaining a medium scale intervention on foreign territory, how is it even capable of protecting the HVA’s as they transit to theatre? Strategic Raiding if properly implemented would require an amphibious fleet capable (at surge) of brigade level operations, an escort fleet of 24 high-end war fighters, and three expeditionary brigades in rotation to provide a permanent capability to intervene in short term operations.

An Airforce that will lose many of the expensive surveillance and intelligence assets that provide the high level support to British 2star operations allowing them to dominate a theatre of war in addition to sanitising the ingress and egress points of the Trident boats, and more generally an Armed Forces that are not configured to act as C4ISTAR spine around which allied combat units can be plugged-into.

This is a political disaster which threatens to be catastrophic for Britain’s Armed Forces and the fault must be laid at Cameron’s feet, if he wants a land-centric strategic doctrine he shouldn’t have put Fox in charge of Defence, having done so he must back him or sack him.

There are only four possible outcomes from this struggle:

1) Fox wins – Cameron won’t be happy but the Armed Forces survive as a useful force.

2) Cameron wins – Fox gets the sack but the Armed Forces survive as a useful force.

3) Osborne wins – A fudge is sought that will wreck ambitions of sovereign & strategic power projection. *

4) Osborne loses – Sufficient Treasury funding is found to bridge the Afghanistan mission but Fox gets his way.

The first two would be satisfactory, the third would be a tragedy, and the fourth would be ideal, but unless someone backs down we are headed towards the third. The great sorrow is the dishonesty of this squalid political bickering, because if the NSC didn’t want to pay for an “Adaptable” posture they should have just opted publicly for “Vigilant”.

This blog still cleaves to the view that from a capability point of view either Global Guardian or Strategic Raiding are suitable, however the other side of the coin is will and that is where it believe the latter doctrine has the edge, for the voting public has little stomach for fighting wars that are perceived to be both nasty & protracted and essentially other peoples follies.

And this is what they called a policy-led, and not a treasury-led, Strategic Defence & Security Review?

* possibly a little harsh on Osborne, for I don’t believe he harbours any malice for Defence, but he certainly harbours no sympathy either.

18 responses to “Failing to fund your strategic vision – Oh no, it’s happened again!

    • quite, i hope the end result is a clear focus on one or the other, even if it isn’t the one i would want, but there’s too much incompetance for that to be any kind of a certainty as yet…..

      • Incompetence is a sub-component of the law of entropy, you more or less always have to account for it. But there has been a sudden pivot — much as the cliche gets over-used by hack reporters, it is a bit like what happens in judo or wrestling when someone combines the right hold with getting some hip leverage. Things turn about very suddenly. (Of course, as I’m sure Jed would agree, it helps if you can distract your target by being Grace Park at the same time …🙂 There is an entire climate, like summer heat lightning, waiting to come down on the incompetence of Osborne’s plan for cuts. (Cutting the public debt is the right thing to do. Doing it suddenly, by hacking away and destroying inconvenient things like national defence, strategic industrial design capacity, British-owned resource processing and energy management, etc., basically anything not related to the nation’s rentiers, is absolutely the *wrong* thing to do. Hate to bang the drum again but the best evidence from a variety of economies around the globe seems, repeatedly, over decades, to be that if you want a balanced public fisc and a stable society, **start making stuff** across a broad and varied range of activities, and supply as much of your own resource/energy inputs as possible, by whatever means are possible for you. It’s amazing how consistently the aristocratic — I use that term in the generic sense, knowing the practical history a titled class weighs it down with in the UK — gambling classes ignore that.)

        One very good thing that’s come of this, is that it’s helped turn Geddes Axe 2.0 into a strategic review by “accident.” (The leak was no accident, of course.) And now it’s played into another important issue for the coming twenty-odd years that no one wants to admit to — genuine Anglo-Scottish tensions over the terms of Union — as “saving Our Carriers” becomes a Scottish cause. It’s a beautiful piece of irony to get a part of the nation that’s represented mostly by Auld Labour and some of the most hesitant Lib-Dem cohabitants to give a committed Tory-right minister like Fox some leverage to produce actual “winners and losers” in SDSR. (And like you, JBT, pointed out over on the Warships board, it is *absolutely* possible to produce a balanced Army, and one that can land a hard wallop on defined conventional objectives, or alternately about 1-3 years of extended commitment to get something sorted and go home, on a strength of c. 85,000 and six maneuver brigades.) Now if we can just get a smart, maritime-mindful policy that would be great. (I’m not saying just “pro-Navy,” I want something that acknowledges that Britain’s legitimate security concerns for the next generation, from minor to major, all have to reckon with the wet stuff in some way, either as a battlefield or the sovereign road between here and there.)

        I absolutely want someone who knows how to mash up a collection of images of Osborne looking gormless, which he does so well, with mindless quotes about how defence “isn’t that special” (it’s not if you’re descended from feudal landlords who have only ever, whatever their country of origin, been tied grudgingly to modern nation states, and their combination of creeping democratic accountability plus breaks on your rent-seeking.) All set to Britney’s “Oops I Did It Again.” Make it so, computer whiz kids.

  1. The Osbourne angle worries me.

    Its (much) too soon to tell, but is a Blair/Brown Dynamic evolving?
    Cameron stands in front of the cameras and tells us all how wonderful he is.
    Osborne runs the nation by micromanaging funding from the treasurey.

    • difficult to say, if defence were truly considered on its merits and its past receipts then i believe it would not see a cut at all in real terms, as they will still have to cut 10% in capabilities & programs just to catch up with Bernard Gray’s unfunded liabilities.

      sadly the politics of the matter may require all departments to be seen to share the pain (other than DFiD & NHS of course).

      • You may be right on the politics, JBT, but I’d like to see this used (and some of the Lib contingent, like St. Vince, look like they’re writing the hymnal as we speak) to shake up the whole business. Want to fix the NHS? Then fix the bloody NHS, especially the trouble of top-loading and hurling baksheesh at system contractors rather than dealing head-on with infrastructure reform and cost-management of actual health care. Do likewise with a whole bunch of other departments. Use things like defence spending to, I don’t know, stimulate not just the economy but the skill sets and structural ambitions of industry (how do you ever get back to civilian shipbuilding if no one knows how to design and weld together any kind of ship and the yards are all condo developments?) Get rid of the giant bribe factory of DFID and run a microlending development bank straight out of HMG, and tax the Square Mile to pay for it. (Two taxes on the “financial services sector,” one for microlending at home and abroad, the other to cover defence costs. Pay to play. Tom Cromwell and Bill Pitt thought of it first. Doesn’t even have a “red” pedigree.🙂

    • It does look an awful lot like that, Dominic. Sides of a coin. But they’re all part of a nasty, incestuous, PR-rentier class that’s emerged out the end of the old British Establishment, rather like the puffed-up pseudo-feudalists of Tudor days well past the glories of Prince Hal. (Matter of fact, the modern national situation looks an awful lot like England in the messy 1500s, wed to outdated elites, bloated groups of rent-seekers inhibiting the economy, and foes on all sides of an agile state and society open to talent. And it’s gotten so bad that even us lefties can talk like that😉 Where’s Thomas Cromwell when we need him to dissolve some damned monasteries, write a new legal code, and get **** done?)

      I suspect that, at a basic level, Cameron might be possible to get on with since there’s something almost boyish, in a nearly harmless way, about his immense Etonian ego. But Osborne is a hazard to bloody *everybody*, from his foes to his fellow party members. (Let me slip into the Tory POV for a moment and say, want to kill the Coalition before it has enough street cred for the Conservatives to try and shunt off their partners? Go with Osborne’s blind hack-and-slash.) The man’s an f’ing menace worth of stupid. Someone crucially misspelled “Upper-Class Twit of the Year” when they applied the notion to him..

      • And if, on a Friday night in your cups, you wanted to be rude and correlate “end of the British Establishment” with “sphincter” rather than “historical closure,” you might not be that far off.

  2. Indifference or a lack of understanding is just as bad as malice.

    As I asked over at Think Defence if the defence cuts are too bad will the public’s growing support for the troops in A-stan (not the war) move towards a campaign to bring them home “now”? Will the generals, admirals, and air marshalls take a stand? Or will they look to the waiting lists to get into the services, their pensions, and think themselves safe?

    What happens if the other cuts in the public services bring about a Winter (or Spring) of Discontent? What if this brings about a fracture in the Coalition? A Coalition who’s junior partner has no instinctive understanding of defence matters; did anybody else read Paddy Ashdown’s paper on virtually rid of the navy and he is an ex-marine? What if Ulster gets worse (remember the south is up the creek?) The forces can’t be in A-stan, Ulster, fighting fires and emptying bins, and being demobilised all at the same time.

    I think we are living in interesting times and that isn’t good.

    • X,

      It’s an odd mix of pleasure to read your usual perceptive stuff, and depressing as hell what I think you got right. I think that, suddenly, teh whole issue of what the cuts will look like and how they’re arranged is now up in the air. So much so, after Cameron had to wheedle about national security in the Telly, that there’s going to be a whole other round of assasin’s chess to see how it turns out. I wish it would result in a drive to get out, from a British perspective Afghanistan is now purely a bleeding sore. From an operational point of view, trying to do COIN and some kind of hand-waving nation building there actively gets in the way of regenerating a capacity to go back in on occasions to find and kill people who’ve killed Britons and damaged British interests/property when necessary. It looks like, quietly, some at the Admiralty have gotten ready to stand, although there was a spate of resignations over CVA-01 and it did not a damn bit of good. Now of course even one of the worst end-of-his-nose sectionalists in the biz, Dannatt, has gotten on the carrier bandwagon. Mostly, I think, because he can do the logistical math and see that you don’t get his lovely FRES-and-helos army to where it’s needed with the paltry numbers of high-end airlift and obscenely expensive tankers the RAF will have even without cuts. Nor give them adequate air cover.

      On another point, Ashdown should know that too. But, maybe seduced by his SBS-and-Six background to the cheap-thriller “strategy” of fighting terrorist this and cyber that with 21st-century James Bonds who are one part ninja, one part landsknecht (instead of a larger, versatile, heavy and expensive but professional, national armed forces) has got to him past to his prime. Some of it too may be getting caught up in what I’d call a “cult of the hard man” about British military ops that I think has been growing since the generation of frustration in Ulster. Maybe some of it’s trying to live up to granddad and great-granddad in the World Wars (nearly unique since Henry the Fifth in being wars where largely British-national land forces contributed in decisive ways to your enemy’s unconditional surrender.) Maybe it’s the wierd logic human minds get into when they decide that the problem — being asked by idiot politicians to fight a long series of muddy, dusty, complicated, fruitless COIN conflicts on a slow bleed for a couple of decades — is actually the solution, the shape of things to come and some kind of “defining” whatever for NATO/Western interests/British military reputation/boxing above our weight/tonker size/ whatever. I don’t think flinging in endless streams of line infantry as “staying power” (pretty Freudian phrase) to fights that literally lack a strategic point, as though you’re rushing in every time someone shouts “come and have a go if you think yer ‘ard enough,” is a national strategy.

      Totally with you on the scariness of possible overstretch to come. And I don’t think you even have to have the old style of Discontent out of militant unions. At this point if you make deep enough cuts stuff just shuts down on its own. Rather like what happened when that puffed-up idiot Gingrich had to follow his bluff through and shut down the U.S. federal system back in the Nineties. Only more, and worse. And self-infliected. Ulster worries me too these days, exactly because the Republic’s up the spout and the armed camps, over the years, pretty well turned into mafiosi — which is to say they control a fair bit of what economic activity’s left in the Province. Balkan experience says that has some predictable results and they’re not good.

  3. Thank you for your kind words. When I comment on these sites what I type is what termed “stream of consciousness” stuff. I am not really aiming to be factual as more give a broad stroke view as I see it as I sit there at that moment. Half an hour later and what I may right would be different. Sometimes odd things real themselves. I don’t do odd off the cuff writing very well; I got upset last week because somebody took exception to one of my rambling thought diatribes over at Think Defence and basically accused me of not knowing what I was talking about. On second reading at face value it was rubbish; but to me who knew where I think I was going it made more sense. You have to be careful as not all of us are blessed with a lateral thinking brain and prefer cold facts. I prefer to be very structured in my writing, IRL I am the sort of person who panics about a misplaced comma…….

    • You do very well, even at a gallop. Of course I have a pretty tangential brain but I haven’t noticed you being particularly “off the rails.” I understand the worries, I think that helps contribute to you being on topic so often. Wish I could manage the same, if I just misplaced a comma it’d be a good day🙂

  4. thank you Jed, Jackstaff, X and DominicJ, I have read all your comments and very much agreed with the broad theme that emerges from all you have said, I would reply in more depth but it has been a very long weekend of travelling, weddings and speech-giving, so I’m a bit pooped.🙂

  5. I see Osborne vented his foie gras at the Conference, unsurprisingly. And for him it was a fairly typical wobbly, nicely skewered over at TD (have to go comment in that thread, Admin did another one of his great charts but it’s looking very lonely.) And now CallMeDave has gladhanded his way in, with the charming over-promoted gunner Gen. Richards at his arm. Looks bad for avoiding another Tudor/Stewart era in defence (lots of pretending Charles V and Henri de Navarre will return your calls, lots of blood and treasure spent in foolish efforts to be the next Henry V, and the only undeniably useful military accomplishments were 1) at sea and 2) overthrowing your own king three different ways in three interlacing civil wars.) Oh well.

    I will say, though, at least strategic “cards” are getting onto the table, where people can debate them. The more of what gets done here, at TD, and elsewhere, the better. More heat. And the more pressure on everyone outside Camerborne — Fox, the Lib Dems, even Labour — to think through coherent possibilities, the better.

    • I have been amazed at the sheer number of uk blogs that follow a military interest, stands in stark contrast to what Sven was saying about the dearth of German equivalents, let’s hope the aggregate effect is of significance.

      Yes, I will have to have a shot at the TD sweepstakes.

  6. And now, the Admiralty’s playing a fatally risky but (bear with me) potentially brilliant poker game. Yes, we have Con “All we need is lots of gallant little frigates and a hundred thousand underwater cyber-knife fighters” Coughlin fulminating about how the carriers are stupid. No, they bloody aren’t. In order to preserve the sovereign capability to *defend* Britain from the sea, against an actual peer assault (worst-case insurance again), you need the carriers to start that defence out at a decent distance. This policy has already started vivid fulmination about saving the amphibs (“the carriers are useless without them!”) Fine. Then *save* the amphibs (and thus the walk-back starts.) Better yet, propose selling the Albions, because once you factor in a reasonable sales price for them, getting two Spanish BPEs to replace them (much greater capabilities and lower crew manning,, if you don’t count the air group) costs less than a single Type 45. Next step of the walk-back, save the T22 Batch 3s. (Cutting Type 23s actually helps Hague, because you could offer a batch of six to Brazil and cut France’s naval-construction offer off at the knees. This is very important, because my sense is that the French really want to build a political arc from Moscow to Brasilia through Paris, yoking in Germany or rendering it irrelevant outside central banking. Instead, an Anglo-Brazilian-Indian-Japanese combine would be a better alternative for the UK.) Save the 22s, because they handle Armilla, and push for a promise to replace them with additional T45s. (There’s really no need to get into the whole “Type 26” business for quite a long while yet.) If you’ve also secured the nuclear sub fleet, then really the rest of what the RN actually needs (if you’re moving towards 2xCVF, 2xLHD, 10xType 45, 6 Tx23 as the heavy end) the rest of what the fleet really needs is sloops (Venators, with 21st century MCM management via remote vehicles and good-not-great towed array to monitor subs in sealanes) and air-independent propulsion SSKs designed to operate under ice. (You do that, and you guarantee potential for Canadian, Norse, or Danish exports.)

    I know I’m going against the tendency for hysteria-by-commentary we get from columnists and their commenters, but if they do this right, it’s about reminding people of 1) what “core capabilities” really are, 2) how daft this army-centric fantasy of Richards’ ego is (the army can be smaller, brigade-based, and a good deal “heavier” than Richards wants and be far more effective and less easily suborned into long wars in Asia), and 3) push ahead a bunch of new build. Now, the RN is going to have to lose at least a third of its admirals and other dross. But at last they’re playing the kind of chess they should have in 1965.

    • i tend to agree that the navy are playing a clever, if high stakes, game. i have also noted the “why keep carriers if we are going to ditch the amphibs argument.

      i’m coming around to a more extreme version of my hi-lo fleet from the previous article, not disimilar to what you propose above.

      heavyweight fleet escorts with lightweight sloops for standing tasks.

      • And now of course we have this bits and pieces from the press about (Grand Logistics’ great phrase) “Cat ‘n’ Trap Cameron.” October’s turned into a merry dance! If I were the Admiralty, I would still offer up six T23s (and a seventh to be laid up to help keep the remaining six in steady service) and a Bay, on these grounds:
        1) Giving Hague the ammo to make a substantial offer (six excellent ASW frigates and a Bay, plus maybe those OPVs for Trinidad plus a few new-build) to Brazil. This helps deal with a fundamental strategic issue in British foreign policy, relations with Brazil.
        2) Take the proceeds from that sale, plus flogging the Albions (maybe to South Africa? They’re pretty much just what the SAN’s looking for.) Plunk them into a contract for two BPEs. Then you have shiny new LHDs, lower crewing than the Albions plus elimination of Ocean, with greatly improved capacity, for a pittance. (Probably about 200M quid in new money, over a several-year period. Peanuts.)
        3) You save the T22 Batch 3s. Who knows what heavy escorts RN will get in return, but I still favour four more Darings. The Batch 3s are really flotilla-leader destroyers with short-range AAW despite their label. But you should at least get something mighty for them.

        That’s a proper core for the fleet. The rest of its issues (other than some specialized stuff like replacing HMS Endurance and dealing properly with ocean-survey) should indeed go to cheap but versatile sloops (Flyvefisken for the big boys) and subs. Worked for the RN at its height, it’s still a good strategic model unless you have a specific peer threat whose line-of-battle capabilities threaten to overwhelm yours.

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