The SDSR 2010 – What dare we hope for 2015?

The SDSR was never going to be satisfactory, the perpetual wars during declining budgetary prominence was always going to result in a car-crash, and sure enough that crash arrived with the financial crisis in 2008. This has resulted was a lot of unsatisfactory decisions, mostly due to the (correct) commitment to the Afghan mission conflicting for the desire for a force structure for 2020 and beyond, but did we avoid making the difficult choices demanded by RUSI in the FDR paper; capability cost trends?

What that is recognisable can we pull out of the rubble?

The Afghan mission is a classic example of Rupert Smith’s “wars-among-the-people”, where enduring and dispersed insurgencies will require significant ground forces to dominate a theatre over an extended period. Ideological conflict to be a generational affair and will require sustained effort on a wide scale to prevent failed states becoming hot-houses for new threats to home security and national interests.

The easy option would be to cut-n-run, however this would wreck one of the two pillars that support British military action in support of Foreign Policy objectives. It is one thing to have the military capability for action, but the far more effective solution is to achieve ones objective by the mere threat of action, however that only works if allies and adversaries believe you have the will to fight. If Britain cut-and-run we would destroy the confidence of our allies have our support, and thus  the support we can expect from them, just as it would destroy our capability to deter new threats to Britain’s security & interests, as our adversaries would drag us into unwanted wars such as the Falklands conflict.

So, whatever we intend to do in future and however that might require a change in structure today, we cannot simply abandon the capabilities that support the Afghan mission. If the mission were lost anyway then we would be subject to a similar loss of credibility, however this blog is quietly hopeful that the special forces whirlwind combined with the enduring local presence will eventually deliver an Afghanistan that is not a threat to Britain’s security nor too its interests. This is all that should be asked.

In broad terms the decision to restructure the army around five ‘presence’ brigades, and two rapid-reaction brigades, in addition to the commitment to carrier strike and significant amphibious capability, are strong indicators that the MOD favoured a doctrine closer to Strategic Raiding than Global Guardian, which will prove to be a difficult marriage with the Afghan responsibilities. Why so? If it had been the latter then there would have been no reduction in combat brigades, and reduction in troop numbers, for COIN wars are a numbers game and expensive rapid-reaction reaction brigades with all their attached logistical support would have been the first to go.

The Georgian war as a template of future conflict is characterised by regions subject to geopolitical ‘shocks’, thus encouraging states insufficiently wedded to the international system to renationalise their foreign policy and justify unilateral external action. The logical response is the British “manoeuverist approach” where freedom of the sea allows one to apply surgical force to an enemy’s critical weaknesses, rather than blunt force against the enemy’s main strength.

The key difference between the two is the need for a larger number of brigades, and the logistical tail to support them in persistent operations, versus a smaller number of brigades, with a larger maritime presence geared around supporting short-duration operations. Anything that does not fit explicitly into the two roles, past and future, has been deemed surplus to requirements and brutally sacrificed in the name of deficit reduction. Arguably, if the Afghan commitment had not dominated the previous nine years with the promise of a further five, or, if the chosen posture had not been rapid-reaction operations of limited duration, the SDSR might have produced a less bizarre result.

How is it bizarre?

Announcing an intention to cut the army by 7,000 in the short term, and a combat brigade in the medium term, at a time when we are committed to a nasty and protracted COIN war until 2015.

Announcing the replacement of the strategic deterrent, and yet cancelling the order for the maritime patrol aircraft that guarantee its independence of action, aircraft which have already been paid for.

Announcing the retirement of carrier strike and then committing to reconstituting it with a [single] carrier equipped with the most training/resource intensive CATOBAR variant of F35.

Announcing a future intention to reduce the broad manpower base that enables enduring operations as characterised by Afghanistan, and then limiting rapid-reaction forces to battle-group level only.

The first is recognition that political support, and electoral support, for another protracted and nasty COIN war is simply non-existent, and thus there is no point configuring the future of the Armed Forces capability for wars of a type Britain is unwilling to fight, it is a pointless waste of resource.

The second is recognition that effective strategic nuclear deterrents will be a massive drain on limited defence budgets in future, a fact weighing even more heavily on France, so we shall have to broaden our dependence beyond the US to our ‘new’ allies. The MRA4 did far more than sanitise the North Sea for Trident, but that was its raison d’etre.

The third is recognition that we have known for years that the Forces would require a decade to recover from running the Iraq and Afghan operations simultaneously for five years, and that even with the former now complete the burden of keeping 9,500 troops in Afghanistan till 2015 means that we are not going anywhere else, en-masse, until 2020 at the earliest.

The fourth is reinforcement to the third, the two rapid reaction brigades will not be tasked with anything more demanding than battle-group level operations, because there is nothing more to give for non-obligatory conflict.

If we accept that the 10% cut resulting from the Gray report should be added to the 7.5% departmental cut, in addition to the ~2% cut from the acquisition cost of the Trident replacement, then Defence saw a reduction in line with the average over other departments, and it remains a minor miracle that a more serious capability cull was not necessary!

The reduction in heavy armour and its withdrawal from Germany do not feature heavily in this narrative, because they were neither surprising nor controversial, and thus not indicative of any trend in future force structure evolution.

What does this blog wish to see from the 2015 SDSR, post Afghanistan and hopefully in a more benign economic climate?

First, to see rapid-reaction interventions via 3Cdo and 16AAB to be restored to Brigade level. The majority of the amphibious tonnage survived including one of the two LPH’s, three of the four LSD’s, and both of the two LPD’s (with one in mothballs).

Second, to see agreement that both Carriers should be brought into full service in order that Britain retains a permanent ability to generate a carrier task group in support of a rapid intervention. This begs the question over where the majority of the F35c end up?

There is plenty more that might be wished for but that is mere detail, what matters is sovereign and strategic power projection, and there is sufficient evidence that this is exactly the goal sought from the 2020 vision.

18 responses to “The SDSR 2010 – What dare we hope for 2015?

  1. Interesting prospective. For sure, Afghanistan has determined the shape of European Armed forces for the next decades, mainly because it has contributed to dry our investment budgets.

    • It could have done, on a more permanent basis that is, but a force structure that retains the carriers and amphibs while commiting to reducing the army is not indicative of a COIN posture post 2015.

  2. I have great trouble (well not that great) seeing 16AAB as a rapid deployment brigade. If it were up to me the Parachute Regiment would be shoved into the SF group.

    If it were up to me I would use The Rifles as the base for a Rapid Deployment / Light Division in a similar fashion to the American 10th Mountain. The division would be equipped with light vehicles that can be easily stuffed into ships and aircraft. I would throw in two FFR remodeled on US Cavalry lines. And for arty I would use the light gun (to be replace with M777) and a MLRS regiment too.

    For the line infantry I would rotate them between armour at home (and training at BATUS) and peacekeeping abroad with a brigade in the middle re-rolling.

    I would just fit the Guards into with the line infantry……..

    And I would raise an extra Ghurka Battalion too.

    All this talk of 2015 is all well and good. But I think by then the media will be asking “How long will British troops be in the Yemen?” Though that might be good for amphibious shipping.

      • In ways 16AAB is a paper formation. Take a look at the mode of movements of 3Cde and an armour brigade. Both of which own their they way in which the deployed. The former the amphib shipping and its ‘copters. The latter owns it tanks, IFVs, etc. 16AAB has to borrow the majority of its own major movement assets from another service. We don’t have the helicopters to assign permanently to the formation.

        Further 3Cde is a fixed formation in terms of units. 16AAB is Para + who rotates through the role. (I could be wrong now the arms plot has gone.) If 16AAB was all three Para’ bats it would be different.

        I think the Para’s would be better employed as rangers support SF group.

        Also consider that in terms of helicopters that 16AAB is a battalion bigger than when the formation replace 5 Brigade.

        Of course we don’t have the money to give 16AAB assets it deserves. Inter service rivalry stops AAC owning airframes big enough to lift troops in substantial numbers. In fact the service that owns helicopters doesn’t seem interested in owning such assets. Compare that with FAA and its junglie squadrons. The FAA has always been pro-transport helicopter.

        10th Mountain is a fixed formation…….

        I just realized you weren’t comparing 16AAB with 10th Mountain….. But what I said still holds.

      • i do recognise the problem, but there needs to be another ‘light’ formation for rapid reaction deployments to swap as the ready brigade with 3Cdo.

        if the other five brigades are going to be rotating ‘presence’ brigades then that only leaves 16AAB, which is at least ‘light’.

        not sure there is a way around it….

  3. I’m working on a viable Global Guardian force at the moment, its really hard, I just cant get anything like the manpower required, even if you abolish the other arms.
    Some research was done by the US in the second world war and they learnt they need 1 soldier to occupy 19 civillians.
    If we want to keep the 6 months deployed / 30 months home ratio, those two deployment limits create immense problems.

    Even if the British Army was half a million strong, you can only deploy 83,000 men.
    If we accept the 1:19 ratio, that means they can occupy a medium sized city with a population of about 1.5 million.
    Manchester and Brimingham both have populations of about 2.5million.

    If you dont meet the policing numbers, well, what do you accomplish? Afghanistans hardly a success.

    The only way I can get it to work is if *we* recruit, educate, train, equip and pay a force raised from the locals, with officers and NCO’s provided by the British Army, and slowly replaced by the locals competant enough to be lances, and corporals, and sergents, and junior officers.

    The current ANA earns peanuts and gets it sporadicaly.
    If, every year since 2001, we had recruited 50,000 Afghans, trained them as British Infantry, and provided British Officers, there would now be half a million Afghan Soldiers, the cost would be minimal, $5 a day seems to be the going rate in the area.
    $912,000,000. Maintain 10,000 British Armed Forces costs almsot three times that.

    Does it even need a massive amount of manpower in the British army?

    • yes, i see the problem.

      using your solution of recruiting ‘sepoys’ a useful global guardian would require 10x combat brigades to keep 2x in theatre.

      one probably dispersed into regional battle-groups to provide some local backbone, and one to sprearhead campaigns to capture and dominate enemy stron points.

      • Presumably the training could be done in Scotland with the home units?

        It still leaves the problem on getting NCO’s and JCO’s to sign up for a three year deployment to Ghanners or Somalia, I suppose even Captains and Majors would need to be in for the long haul.

  4. “why would that be necessary?”
    To give the Sepoys some stability. The Regimental Sergent Major is supposed to know the complete history of every soldier in the regiment, can the army exist if the sergents dont even know the squaddies names?

    Lets say we raise the raise The First East African Rifles Regiment, as a Battalion Strength Unit.
    Each Platoon, if raised on British lines, would have 18 Sepoy Riflemen, 3 British Lances, 3 British Corporals, a British Platoon Sergeant and a British 2nd Lieutenant.

    After 6 months training (lets assume our Sepoys cant read) then the force is ready for light duties back home. The more competant Sepoys could displace the Lances at this point I suppose, however, the Platoon would likely fall apart if the remaining Brits (20% or the unit) were replaced by others.
    I suppose after a year, the unit should be looking to be supplying the Lances and Corporals, and after anoter 6 months, possibly the Sergeant and Lietenant, so a 6 month intensive in scotland and a year overseas.
    Personaly, I’d take that route for quick promotion, not that I’m in the army.

    But Platoons arent the highest level.
    If we follow the UK Model, but ditch ManSup for another Rifle Coy, we need 4 company commands, and a battalion command.
    Can the Company commanders be replaced with other men after 18 months?
    I dunno, it seems an odd way of doing it to me.

    Speaking just for myself, when I was flirting with the idea of joining up, 5 years overseas wouldnt have been a big deterant if I knew at the end of it my next promotion would be be Battalion Commander not a Company Commander. 5 years in Afghanistan would see you coming home a wealthy man in possession of 5 years back pay if nothing else.

    Anyway, I digress.
    I think a 5 Company Sepoy Rifle Battalion should be able to reform as a 3 Company Rifle Battalion, with the missing two companies providing the NCO/CO staff after 5 years.
    Some Staff should be in it for the long haul, others for shorter periods.

    Have to get this written up and organised

  5. JBT well perhaps Para 1 to 3 need to be put on the same footing as 3Cde as, if you forgive me, I tiny private army a discrete force on its own. That does the light brigade stuff and offers a Ranger capability to the SF group.

    I think we are singing from the same hymn sheet.

    And I am still not convinced by “presence brigades.”

    • yes, i see what you mean.

      adding a couple of light infantry battalions, the same way we do with 3Cdo, and making a deployable light brigade with specialist light support assets, again as the marines do things.

      this would allow the extras such as all the AAC to be held as a separate additional function to whatever mission required it.

      as for the ‘presence’ brigades (my term), they are inevitable because there will always be an ongoing requirement be it COIN or peacekeeping, and we are committed to meeting that requirement. So, we need five large and self-sufficient brigades capable to flexing up to war-fighting and area domination, and down to lighter duties.

      • Until a few weeks back I would have said it would be a generation or so until a British government would dare follow the US down the interventionist route. But now I don’t know.

        I can’t articulate want I want to say so I will stop there. Um. As I said above rotating brigades through armour (proper soldering!) and peace keeping school seems to be the way to go. Perhaps my wider reading on peace keeping causes me to question to whether soldiers should be doing it. Or perhaps I am over cooking the problem perhaps the diplomats on the ground just need some heavies? For the Army peace keeping has been a bit of a curates egg.

      • “For the Army peace keeping has been a bit of a curates egg.”

        agreed. it is a difficult task to ask an 18 year old that has just gone through basic infantry training, particularly stabilisation work.

        i would be happy to see a peacekeeping brigade, provided it wasn’t funded by the defence budget.

    • interesting exercise.

      an interesting meld of global-guardian and contributory doctrines.

      i don’t have the background to know if it would work, but it certainly sounds plausible.

      i’d love to see what the army oriented end of the think defence crowds thinks of it?

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