The telegraph made headlines this week with an article claiming that the Army would be facing a cut of up to 20,000 troops after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving manpower cut to circa 80,000 in the period following 2015. This has come as a surprise to some quarters given the vagueness of the SDSR itself, not least because of the constant reference to the heavily quoted number of 94/95 thousand troops alongside repeated references to the ‘aspiration’ of the 2020 force structure. It should not have been a surprise.
Notwithstanding ambiguous quotes in the SDSR document there were plenty of caveats.
Another roller-coaster week in Strategic Defence & Security Review, with a parade of headlines in the news, that if considered chronologically, draw an interesting picture of the evolution of ideas that is occurring at break-neck pace inside the offices of government.
And it all started with the following headline: “Navy to reduce to smallest size ever to save carriers”
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. Continue reading →
Early in this year the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre of the MOD produced a paper titled The Future Character of Conflict, an exploration of the threats Britain is likely to face in the next twenty years, in order to inform a future security and defence review. The document focuses on the changes in strategic priorities and capabilities of nations and non-state-actors, and how Britain might react to them. It is an extensive tract broken down into a series of disaggregated bullet points, so for the purpose of this post the most interesting themes have been collated for comment.
What follows is not an analysis of the of the text itself, rather a discussion of how those themes directly impact on the assumptions of the coming Defence review.
The RUSI paper released today deals with the realm of deterrence, and principally the naval means by which a maritime power such as Britain requires presence to achieve this, the paper is titled; Why things don’t happen – Silent principles of national security. Its argument lies in a refutation of the Admiralty strategy of preserving high-end war fighting capability against the Treasury tendency to argue that an insufficient capability is in fact sufficient because its inadequacy has yet to be demonstrated. France has long maintained a hi-lo naval force structure, notably with its Floreal and La Fayette class frigates, to provide for constabulary and diplomatic duties in addition to specialised vessels such as the Horizon class AAW vessels and the FREMM class ASW/GP/AAW frigates. The latter are principally tasked with escorting High Value Assets (HVA’s) and providing area defence to a naval task-group, perhaps its is time to force the Admiralty to accept the same prescription……
For to concentrate purely on high-end war fighting is to create a fleet so limited in numbers that any loss is catastrophic and therefore its employment improbable, and its utility nullified.
This article has been steadily brewing for some time, but its arrival has been hastened by the thoughts of a Think Defence article; Political Statement of Interest and Intent? It stems from the apparent internecine war between the Service Chiefs in the run up to the looming Defence cuts, and the alleged failure to consider first-principles and desired outcomes when formulating the SDSR.
This debate appears to revolve around the fading relevance of Single service tasks, and where the focus should settle in this new world of ‘jointery’.
The biggest news item surrounding the Armed Forces this week is the shock announcement from the Chancellor that whereas the acquisition costs of the Trident replacement were previously expected to be funded directly from the Treasury, now the £20 billion cost should be absorbed by the £36 billion defence budget. At the same time speculation from the more stridently right-wing of Conservative support is reaching a fever-pitch over the possibility of a merger between the Tories and the Liberal end of the Lib-Dem’s.
In the previous paper this blog set out some tentative ideas, in the hope of attracting comment more than anything else, and fortunately plenty of comment was received, all of it useful. DominicJ, Jed, Jackstaff and Steve Coltman all have the gratitude of this blogger, much was learned, many ideas rethought, and now its time to have another stab at the matter.
So what is the aim of the exercise, what capability is desired, and how should it be sustained?
Given William Hague’s recent foreign policy speech it would appear that he intends for Britain to keep a premier role in international affairs, we currently have around 35,000 members of the Armed Forces deployed, and it is unlikely given the above that requirement for this commitment will decrease dramatically. Of those 35,000 personnel from all three branches of the Armed Forces ten thousand are engaged in Afghanistan, and a further five thousand are garrisoned in British overseas territories, this leaves approximately 20,000 scattered over sixty plus countries on non-operational deployments such as Germany, as well as numerous training, goodwill and peacekeeping operations in the Americas, Africa, and Asia. The total size of the enlisted forces numbers not more than 175,000, and given that the Defence cuts of 15% are anticipated at a time when units costs are growing at 1.7%/annum RUSI have stated that we should expect personnel numbers to fall in the order or 30,000 after the coming Defence Review. Clearly, having 35,000 members of the Armed Forces on operations and deployed will be unsustainable.
Is it time to consider creating a peace-keeping Corps to work alongside a newly refocused war-fighting Force?
Malcolm Chalmers is the author of the latest RUSI paper on Britain’s Future Defence Review, and his interest in this paper is to seek a balanced force against the tide of coming cuts. His concern would be to de-emphasise legacy skills whilst preserving a regenerative capability on the understanding that while they are not crucial now we live in an uncertain world, and as such we must insure against the unknown.
First and foremost it is recognised that we are overspent, over-tasked, likely to witness Defence budget reductions, and must therefore reduce the scale of our capabilities.