Tag Archives: defence

Fox warns on Defence Spending

The Defence Secretary Liam Fox has warned British Defence companies that they will have to cut costs or face losing out on future business from the armed forces, BBC News reports. He was speaking at the Farnborough air show, a gathering of Defence industries, with a particular focus on aviation.

The issue of defence procurement is a tricky one. Undoubtedly, there are many examples of spending being badly handled from the MOD side, and this has driven up costs in many cases. But in a more competitive market, where the MOD will have to make every penny count more than ever, it is right for the Defence Secretary to warn companies to offer value for money. An uncompetitive company is unlikely to be an efficient one where its products are concerned.

No doubt Defence contractors will argue that they already do, and will point to the high costs of basing production in the UK – such as salaries and running costs. but they seem to have a choice – adapt to the changing economic situation, or risk going out of business if the MOD looks elsewhere for its equipment. Whilst its nice to provide work in Britain, in a time of collapsing budgets the priority has to be getting the best kit at the best price, regardless of where it comes from. Going back to competitiveness, is a company that knows its 99% likely to get a contract going to pull out the stops to put together a good product?

The question does need to be asked, why it is possible to buy more and better for less money than from a UK firm? Have companies cottoned onto the MOD’s lax spending controls, combined with the policy of buying British, and worked out that they can name their price? As I have previously mentioned, British Defence Companies have almost always been assured of gaining contracts, thanks to robust lobbying from MP’s over providing work for their constituencies.

Fox’s comments follow on from those made by General Sir David Richards, the Chief of Defence Staff designate. It makes a change to hear a Defence Secretary and the Chief of Defence Staff singing from the same hymm sheet. Whether thats down to teamwork or Richards’s political views remains to be seen. It might be a coincidence, but their comments are remarkably similar…

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HMS Cumberland added to Navy Days

The Type 22 Frigate HMS Cumberland has been confirmed to appear at the Navy Days event in Portsmouth at the end of the month. Cumberland is normally based in Plymouth, so it will be a rare opportunity to take a look round a Type 22 Frigate in Portsmouth. It also goes some way to bolstering what is a rather weak-looking line-up.

Despite this new announcement the line-up for Navy Days is still looking decidedly anaemic. HMS Ark Royal, HMS Ocean, HMS Albion, HMS Liverpool, HMS Sutherland, RFA Fort George and RFA Largs Bay are all off the east coast of the US for the AURIGA deployment and are obviously unavailable. HMS Invincible is rusting in 3 Basin and in no condition to be on display, and HMS Illustrious is in deep refit at Rosyth. HMS Bulwark is in refit in Plymouth. As Portsmouth is the home port of the Type 42 Destroyers at least one of those should be on display, but perhaps the Navy is keen to emphasise the future where Destroyers are concerned. The survey ship HMS Echo is currently undergoing operational sea training and might be available, or how about the other survey ship, HMS Scott? Navy Days might also be an ideal opportunity for the Royal Navy to show off the new Astute submarine – even if visitors could not go onboard, it would be a PR coup to even be able to see her tied up alongside, and with some suitable displays about her next door.

There have been noticeably few announcements about foreign warships too. Apart from the French fishery patrol ship FS Cormoran Navy Days is looking like a solely British affair. The last Navy Days in Portsmouth had French, Danish, Chilean and Japanese ships on display. Hopefully we’ll get some announcements in the next couple of weeks – there was talk at one stage of an Italian warship, which would be great if it turned out to be one of the Italian Navy’s new Destroyers, which are almost identical to the Type 45’s and would make for an interesting comparison.

The Royal Navy has never been good at PR, even its own senior officers have dubbed it the ‘silent service’. Its not difficult to work out that poor PR makes you vulnerable when it comes to cuts, as politicians, civil servants and the public at large will be poorly-informed about who you are and what you do. The RAF, on the other hand, has a strong heritage of promoting itself – it has always had to, right from its early days. You can be it will not be wasting a single opportunity to emphasise what it does in these critical days while the Strategic Defence Review is ongoing.

Officials will cite ‘operational commitments’ for the poor showing at Navy Days, but in the case of exercises such as AURIGA would it not have been possible to either move the dates of Navy Days or scale down our involvement so at least one major ship might have been available? Of course it must be nice for Admirals to go on flag-waving exercises and to practice the rarity of fixed-wing flying on a UK Aircraft Carrier, but with bad PR this might end up being a thing of the past entirely.


Filed under defence, Dockyard, event, Navy

New Chief of Defence staff threatens to pull plug on UK Defence Industry

The new head of the British Armed Forces has criticised the UK Defence industry as ‘ailing’, in an article in the Mail on Sunday yesterday (18 July 2010, page 2). General Sir David Richards – the current Chief of General Staff of the British Army, and future Chief of the Defence Staff, warned that it was not the role of the military to spend money simply to ‘prop up’ British defence industry companies.

On that point, her certainly does make sense. Questions have been raised over UK Defence procurement for some time. In the same article, the Mail cites the £1.7bn paid for 62 Lynx Westland Helicopters, costing £27m each, from Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland. Apparently the MOD was repeatedly offered the option to buy American-built Black Hawk helicopters – far superior to the Lynx Wildcat – for £8m each. A similar situation took place years ago, when the MOD decided to purchase the SA80 rifle, largely as it gave business to British companies. The end-product was inadequate and needed large-scale modifications by Heckler Koch – bizarre given that the MOD could simply have bought from H&K in the first place.

What no-one seems to consider is, why is the UK Defence industry so expensive? Possibly due to prohibitively high costs of basing production in the UK, whereas foreign companies can pay staff less, and run on cheaper bills. Is it an option for companies such as BAE Systems and QinetiQ to up their game and become more competitive? Given the Generals comments, it sounds like ‘adapt-or-die’ will have to be their mantra. Thats probably why, in the recent BBC documentary, QinetiQ seemed to be moving into more civilian markets.

Not so long ago the British Defence Industry was the most productive and succesful in the world. Vosper Thorneycroft built ships for a multitude of navies around the world. Tanks such as the Centurion graced numerous battlefields during the Cold War. Even during the Falklands War, the Argentinian Navy had two Type 42 Destroyers. It does seem that in the past 20 or so years the British Defence Industry has lost its role in the export market – of recent British Defence projects, the only foreign interest in the Type 45 Destroyers is apparently ‘rumoured’ interest from Saudi Arabia. Only Austria and Saudi Arabia have purchased Eurofighters, and only Oman operates the Challenger 2 Tank. It seems that rather than buy British, many countries that might have done so in the past go for the cheaper American equivalents. Of course, there are very few truly British defence projects any more anyway. Its a sad state of affairs for what was once a thriving industry.

Where procurement is concerned, frequently the Government comes under pressure to buy British, in order to safeguard jobs. Defence debates in Parliament are always hallmarked by MP’s ready to stand up and speak out for jobs in ‘my constituency’. Recently thinkdefence analysed a Strategic Defence Review debate, and the words ‘my constituency’ featured more than any others. Of course MP’s have to stand up for their constituents – an MP who lets thousands of people lose jobs without a fight wont be an MP for much longer – but by the same token, this kind of lobbying leads to some hamstrung decision-making. For example, the Royal Navy is simply not large enough to warrant having three large main bases, but robust lobbying has protected jobs so far. At some point this will come to a head.

What astounds me most, however, is his comparison with Thatcher’s strategy of destroying loss-making industries such as coal and steel in the eighties. Although maybe not quite so overt as his predecessor, Sir Richard Dannatt, reading between the lines it IS a political statement. Hero-worshipping Margaret Thatcher leaves no illusions as to Richard’s politics.

Of course its important that the Defence budget is used to maximum effect by employing best value, but that doesn’t mean the threat of thousands of job losses should be talked about so flipplantly either.


Filed under defence, News, politics, technology

Chief of Defence Staff asked to step down early

BBC News reports that the Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, has been asked to step down early. Reportedly he will relinquish the post in the autumn after the Strategic Defence Review has been completed.

Whilst his stepping down is bound to sound like a sacking, it is far from that. He had been due to retire in 2009 after a three year term, but had been asked to stay on. Unconfirmed reports suggest that this was due to Gordon Brown not wishing to promote General Sir Richard Dannatt, the most likely successor. Brown was apparently unhappy with Dannatt’s frequent public statements regarding defence policy and funding.

Historically Chiefs of Defence Staff have only served three year terms, in order to ensure that no one person or service can dominate defence policy. Traditionally the role is rotated among the three armed forces, for example an RAF officer will not be replaced by another airman. So in actual fact the latest development is a return to convention after the last Government deviated from it.

Stirrup is likely to be replaced by the current Chief of the General Staff General Sir David Richards, or the Vice-Chief of Defence Staff Sir Nick Houghton. The sensible money will be on Richards, a former Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. Richards has extensive experience, has been pretty reliable and impartial during his time in charge of the Army and is also well thought of by our allies, especially the US. Another outside bet might be the head of the Navy Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, but given the Army’s primacy in operations at present this is unlikely.

These latest developments bring to mind an interesting situation that might have arisen if Richard Dannatt was still in charge of the Army – would the Government have promoted him to Chief of Defence Staff, given that even while he was in command he was a Tory supporter? This would have raised very serious questions about the politicisation of the armed forces.

The only other issue that could be raised is whether it is right to have a new Defence Chief after the Strategic Defence Review – surely it would make more sense to have a new person in place before, so they can help inform the Review? Otherwise whoever comes in after Stirrup will be working with the effects of somebody elses advice and influence. If the Government really wants a fresh start – which makes sense – then why complete a Defence Review with a lame duck senior officer?


Filed under defence, News, politics

Time Magazine article on the British armed forces

Thanks for Think Defence for drawing my attention to this link. Its an article in the prestgious American magazine Time. Its a very interesting read indeed, looking at the history of Britain’s military and its current position. A perfect example as well of how the past and the present relate to each other. And, as is often the case, an outside view is devoid of the usual baggage and partisan perspectives.

The article is quite right in highlighting the firm divide between supporting the troops and opinion about the war in Afghanistan. Public shows of support, such as at Wootton Bassett, and appeals such as Help for Heroes, are more prominent now than at any time since the end of the war, with the exception perhaps of the Falklands in 1982. Yet defence is virtually a non-issue when it comes to the upcoming General Election.

It is hard to argue that British defence is not in crisis. Equipment costs are spiralling, defence spending falling in real terms, commanders are engaged in turf wars for profile and funding, and the Government is looking at burden-sharing with the French – a prospect that has not gone down well with the forces or the public at large. But while the British public might balk at the prospect of our armed forces fighting under the Tricolor, and are proud of their military history, they are also savvy enough to know when they are being lied to, and when their servicemen are being let down.

The upcoming Defence Review is perhaps the most crucial crossroads for the British armed forces since the end of the cold war. And in many ways, the review will have to deal with many delayed hangovers from the Cold War, particularly in the mindset of Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals. There is undoubtedly a gap between how Britain perceives itself, and the reality of what it can afford. The world is clearly a far more uncertain place than 20 years ago. Therefore, there need to be some earnest questions and honest answers about every facet of the armed forces – something that has been avoided since the end of the Cold War.

“All I could make out in their language were the words Mr. Bean. They were laughing at me … making me feel about three inches tall.” So spoke Royal Navy Seaman Arthur Batchelor about his ordeal being held captive by Iran in 2007. Such an image does not sit well within British naval history. British forces have long been held up as role models on the international scene. In 2003 British forces strolled into Basra wearing Berets, while their US counterparts treated Iraqi civilians with extreme caution. British forces have unrivalled experience and expertise of a wide range of scenarios. But incidents such as the capture of sailors and marines by Iran in 2007, and the inability to tackle pirates in 2009, undermines the morale of Britain’s forces and their global standing.

The recent Iraq inquiry, however, has identified that while there is a wealth of capability within the armed forces, the real problem with British Defence policy lies in a serious lack of defence expertise within the politicians of Whitehall. There is undoubtedly a gulf between the military and the Government, illustrated clearly by the almost open warfare between Gordon Brown and General Sir Richard Dannatt during the latter’s time as Head of the British Army. Can former lawyers and union leaders really govern the armed forces properly? It is no wonder Generals become politicised when they are treated as shabbily as they have been by the current Government.

British defence governance, leadership and culture clearly needs a serious reconfiguration, as Time suggests. In fact, in many ways it could be argued that the cultural and political issues are bigger than that of funding. It is almost reminiscent of the ‘frocks and hats’ divide during the First World War. As funding is inherently determined by the culture and government of the military, it makes far more sense to square this problem before talking about whether we need aircraft carriers or whether we have too many eurofighters.

We should have a much clearer picture after 4 May…


Filed under debate, defence, Navy, politics, Royal Air Force, Uncategorized

Land/Sea/Air integration – historical perspectives

Something I have frequently focussed on in recent months is the need for integration and inter-operability between the three armed forces. It is very rare indeed that any of the armed forces are called upon to act in isolation, so it makes complete sense to work together as much as possible. Not only that, but UK Armed Forces are smaller than the US Marine Corps, but have much more duplication and a more bloated and complicated command structure.

My interest in co-operation between Land and Air forces stems from Operation Market Garden in 1944. Then the Air Force planners held a veto over picking landing zones for the Airborne Forces, leading to them landing too far from Arnhem Bridge. Clearly, co-operation was poor, and it costs lives and the outcome of the battle. Another aspect of Land/Air Co-operation is the need for the Air Force to provide close support to Army units.

In terms of Sea-Air co-operation, we need look no further than the aircraft carrier. There has always been an extremely complex relationship between the RAF and the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. The latest episode in this was the decision to retire the Sea Harrier early, and to operate RAF GR Harriers at sea – a far from ideal solution. Its a discord that promises to run further, with the debate over the Joint Strike Fighter.

Co-operation between the Navy and the Land Forces can be traced to need for amphibious operations. It has long been the role of the Royal Navy to transport the Army, land it, and then recover it. As shown during the Falklands, this involves securing Sea and Air superiority, transporting the landing force, then getting it ashore and keeping it there. That the Royal Navy has its own amphibious land force, the Royal Marines, and the longer history compared to air, makes this one of the more harmonious relationships.

Although there have been notable developments since 1944, some of the essentially historic problems remain. And they are, by and large, parochial and cultural. As the junior service the RAF remains fiercely proud of its independence, especially given recent calls to disband the RAF entirely. It is hard to dispute that by procuring as many Eurofighters as it can lay its hands on, the RAF is securing its status. Whereas providing close support to the Army is a slippery slope to being renamed the Royal Flying Corps once again. Hence why the Army has to provide its own battlefield support in the shape of the Apache. Reports that the RAF would be happy to foresake the Joint Strike Fighter as a replacement for the Harrier add to suspicions.

But aren’t we missing something here? Are service loyalties really that important, that broader UK Defence is sold down the river? Its hardly surprising that officers who have served a lifetime in a service are loyal to it, but all are first and foremost servants of the Crown and the Government. Are we creating needless barriers by thinking in terms of Land-Sea-Air, and structuring our forces as such? Is this a sensible way to manage our forces in the modern era? Perhaps in bygone times when each service required more specialist management, but in a time were technology has bridged the gaps between the seas, the air and dry land, are we right to divide our forces by these out-dated envitonmental factors?

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MOD ‘wastes millions’ on unfit procurement, says committee

The MoD is spending hundreds of millions of pounds a year unnecesarily because it has commissioned more work than it can afford to pay for, a Parliamentary report has found.

The Commons Defence Select Committee found that both major pojects and acquisitions are running at unaffordable levels. A prime example is the delay of the Future Carrier Programme. This has achieved short term savings but bigger long term cost increases. The £674 million-plus cost of delay represents over ten per cent of the current estimated total cost of £5.2 billion for the two carriers.

The most shocking finding of the committee, however, is that the MOD has been delaying projects without considering whether the full extent of these delays will lead to higher costs in the long-run. If true, it is hard to escape the conclusion that short-termism is ruling Defence procurement.

The Report also criticises the management of the lengthy development of the FRES programme to produce a new family of armoured vehicles – now effectively closed. It is not clear whether the end of this programme is due to cost implicatons of a change in the operational requirments for armoured vehicles.

Chairman of the Committee, James Arbuthnot, says “We have tried on many occasions in the past to elicit details about FRES from the MoD without ever receiving clear answers. We can only conclude, with regret, that the MoD has none to give.” During the inquiry, the MoD told the Committee that it had reduced the overall equipment funding gap from £21 billion in 2008 to £6 billion in 2009 but could not explain how this had been achieved. I’m really not sure how they can claim to have made such savings but have no idea how they happened!

The research and technology budget has fallen from £540 million in 2007-08 to £471 million in 2009-10 and will decrease further in 2010-11 to £439 million. This fall in investment in research and development will have long-term implications for the Defence Industry, all for the sake of relatively small short term savings.

It does seem that there is no one at the helm at the MOD. Why the lack of transparency? Why such poor financial management? The MOD is supposed to be about military operations, not sloppy planning and incompetence. Behind the numbers, there are en going to war with indequate equipment. Are the Treasury and No 10 driving the MOD remotely? It does seem so. There is something sad about our armed forces higher management having to firefight from one budget to the next.


Filed under defence, News, politics

Defence Green Paper predicts tough choices and big changes

The Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth today published a Green Paper ahead of the upcoming Strategic Defence Review. It can be read in full here.

Titled ”Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for the Strategic Defence Review’, the paper sets the terms of reference for the tough review on Defence spending and policy that is due to take place after the next General Election.

Obviously, the more discussion, debate and thinking that goes into shaping the review, the better. I do question how worthwhile Defence-based discussion will be, as the review is bound to be driven by Treasury policy. None the less, It is important for the Government, the MOD and the services to take a serious look at the issues involved.

Key Questions outlined are:

  • What contribution can the Armed Forces make to internal security within the UK?
  • How can the Armed Forces be more effective in supporting conflict prevention?
  • Do our international relationships need rethinking?
  • How closely should our armed forces integrate with allies?

The paper seems to conclude that the Armed Forces will have to become leaner and meaner, and to not become too focussed on specific threats but be able to react to new ones. The paper also underlines firmly that the days of the UK acting alone are long gone, and that in future all operations will be in partnership with allies. This will involve building closer links with the US and Europe in particular. This represents a huge change in sovereignty as we know it – the UK is no longer able to defend itself alone. Is this a reflection of changing international circumstances? Clearly, however, some big changes will have to take place.

The most perplexing conclusion of the review is that foreign policy, defence and international development should be more closely integrated. Why has this been dreamt up all of a sudden? The Iraq Inquiry has shown just how disparate these Government Departments have been. Especially when dealing with asymetric threats that require civil and military co-operation. This is especially sad, as the UK had long led the field in low-intensity warfare.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said: “There is no more important function for Government than Defence. This Green Paper will stimulate debate about the future of Britain’s defence ahead of a Strategic Defence Review in the next Parliament. Afghanistan is the top priority today but we must also ensure that our Armed Forces are ready to confront the challenges of tomorrow. The current and emerging threats we face are characterised by uncertainty and will require a more flexible response from an adaptable Armed Forces.”

Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said: “I welcome this Green Paper. It is a first and a significant step on the road to the forthcoming Defence Review that will shape our security in the years ahead. The issues the Green Paper raises are of fundamental importance to all citizens of this country, and I look forward to a vigorous and widespread debate on them in the coming months.”

One does wonder, however, just how much input Sideshow Bob and His Airship Sir Jock will have into the review – for one, the Defence Secretary after May will probably be Tory. Will the Treasury simply hand the MOD cuts and expect them to make them? Probably. It is particularly galling for Ainsworth to talk about Defence as the most important function for the Government – this is not borne out in spending or decision making.

All the same, there will probably be some sharp debates over the next few months. Given the tribal nature of British armed forces expect to see the heads of the Navy, Army and Air Force to attempt to outdo each other. While this loyalty is admirable, it comes at the expense of a broader ‘UK Defence’ thinking. Loyalty should not come before objectivity. Units such as the RAF Regiment, for example, should not escape just because the RAF stamps its feet to keep it. Current expectations are that the RAF and Navy will bear the brunt of the cuts, but who knows what clever lobying may bring about?


Filed under Afghanistan, Army, debate, defence, Navy, News, politics, Royal Air Force

Fierce debate over UK Defence spending

The Prime Minister had denied that he ‘guillotined’ the Defence budget while British forces were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. An ex-MOD civil servant had earlier made the claim while giving evidence at the Iraq Inquiry.

Conservative Leader David Cameron said: “Isn’t it becoming clear from the Chilcot inquiry that the government in general, and you in particular, made a series of bad decisions that meant our armed forces were not equipped properly when they were sent into harm’s way?”

Former Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Sir Kevin Tebbit called the £1bn cut “arbitrary”, and that “I think it’s fair to say that the Treasury as a whole didn’t want us to get as much as we got.” It would seem increasingly that the Government was willing to make huge commitments, but not to fund the armed forces to carry them out.

It is also broadly accepted that Gordon Brown, as Chancellor, had more control over public spending than any of his predecessors. Not only was he able to control spending, but Government policy by default. Gordon Brown’s denials come after a stream of witnesses at the Iraq Inquiry have stated that preparation for the war was severely hampered and inadequate.

It would not be in the Prime ministers interests to admit that he did not fund the armed forces properly: politicians are rarely blessed with honesty over such matters. But why ignore the clear findings of an Inquiry, that he ordered, before it has even finished?


Filed under Afghanistan, debate, defence, Iraq, News, politics

Army and Navy chiefs at odds over future of Armed Forces

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope and General Sir David Richards

Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope and General Sir David Richards

In recent days significant differences of opinion have been emerging between the heads of the Army and the Royal Navy over the future of Britain’s Armed Forces. Intense debate is already foreshadowing the impending Defence Review, which will take place after this years general election and will almost certainly entail difficult choices and cuts.

The Army view

The Army is currently leading the fight in Afghanistan. The head of the Army, General Sir David Richards, has spoke recently about a need to spend less on expensive jets, tanks and warships, and focus more on manpower. Richards’ argument seems to be that current and future threats will come in the form of asymetric warfare, such as terrorism, and that state vs. state conflicts would be unlikely. He has also argued that states are far more likely to fight fight conflicts by proxy, such as with Iranian support for Hizbollah against Israel. Nimbler, more flexible and specialised forces are needed to fight these kinds of wars. Against that background, the Army has long felt that it is doing most of the fighting, whilst receiving little of the Defence Budget.

The Navy view

The head of the Navy, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, has offered an almost polarised view. Stanhope argued recently that the UK’s international influece depends on a fleet that can operate globally. He has also cited the Falklands conflict as an example of the kind of unexpected strategic shock that can occur out of the blue. Stanhope strenuously denied that the Navy was not making best use of expensive equipment, citing its role defending British interests at sea around the globe.

The head of the Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, is believed to broadly agree with Admiral Stanhope’s assesment that state vs. state wars are not a thing of the past. The Navy and the RAF, however, rely largely on expensive equipment – such as Eurofighters, Aircraft Carriers. Projects which are vulnerable to budgetary cuts.


The current debate between the Service Chiefs has strong historical echoes. General Richards has argued that the policy choices facing the UK are alike the “horse to tank” transition, comparing it to the revolution in military tactics during World War I. For years it was clear that horses were being eclipsed by tanks, yet Cavalry regiments were allowed to keep their horses for far too long for sentimental reasons. The ineffectiveness of British armour in the Second world war was the result. Another parallel is the reluctance of naval officers to adapt to air power, clinging on to their big-gun battleships until Prince of Wales and Repulse were destroyed in the water off Singapore.

It could be argued, however, that low-intensity warfare is not new and is merely a progression on from the wars that Britain fought during the withdrawal from Empire and in Northern Ireland. What is new is the element of extremism and fundamentalism involved. Richards does in my opinion appear to be pertinent in suggesting that states are now more likely to sponsor proxies to do their bidding, rather than gamble on all-out warfare. Richards has experience of command in Afghanistan and is known as a ‘thinking mans soldier’.

Divergence between the Armed Forces is also nothing new. As the junior service the RAF has historically been fiercely protective of its independence. The armed services rotate in primacy as different enemies and threats materialise. This does seem to suit the Government, who can then play divide-and-rule with the armed forces. Long gone are the days where service chiefs actual control policy. Neither is Defence a real priority for voters when it comes to the ballot box.

Making an argument can go too far, however. Allan Mallinson’s recent article in the Sunday Times seemed to argue for stripping back the RAF and the Navy, an argument that owes more to his background as an Army officer than anything else. Indeed, the Conservative party has a strong contingent of former soldiers and serving territorials who are bound to influence defence policy accordingly.

To put things into perspective, it is hard to see that the opinions of the heads of the Armed Forces will actually have any effect on Government policy. The overwhelming priority for any incoming Government will be cutting costs and keeping them down. The current perilous state of the British Armed Forces comes is a legacy of years of poor political leadership and incompetent procurement. Lessons should be learnt.

Where the Government is faced with difficult choices – as it undoubtedly will be – perhaps the understanding has to be arrived at that the UK cannot be all things to all people in Defence and that some capabilities will have to be dropped. It is no use trying to plan for all eventualities if we cannot afford to act on them in any case. This would require a level of pragmatism from all involved in shaping policy, but do service loyalties allow a ‘UK Defence’ minded pragmatism?

These debates will shape British Defence for the next decade, and probably beyond then. With the present Chief of Defence Staff being an airman, it is likely that either Admiral Stanhope or General Richards will be promoted to be Britain’s senior serviceman.

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The Future Defence Review: RUSI Analysis

Whichever Political Party wins the expected General Election in May 2010, there is bound to be a Strategic Defence Review which will set out the policy for not only the UK’s Armed Services but also foreign policy for the next decade, with longer term implications far beyond that.

Looking at a Defence Review purely with military binoculars is short-sighted. The review will be taking place in the context of both domestic and international developments. The Government is under pressure to reduce the national budget deficit and to reduce spending. Education, Health and Social Services are very unlikely to face cuts for political reasons. In this coming age of austerity, Defence is almost certainly bound to be one of the sectors that will face cuts. Major projects such as the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers, the Joint Strike Fighter, the Future Surface Combatant and the projected new SSBN Submarines will all come under close scrutiny.

There is an international perspective too. As a key member of the EU, NATO and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the UK has a significant role in international politics. Without capable armed forces, the UK’s international standing will be undermined to the point of talking but not acting – unable to contribute to peacekeeping forces, for example. And in an increasingly unstable and unpredictable world, hallmarked by global terrorism and piracy, it is hard to see where the next threat will come from.

The Royal United Services Institute, a respected think tank on Defence, Security and Foreign Affairs is running analysis on the Future Defence Review. They have already released some very useful working papers on the background to the review, on Defence Spending in Austerity, Military Strategic Options, Multilateral approaches to Security and ‘Jointery’ in the MOD and the armed forces.

Daly History will be covering and commenting on the Defence Review, and indeed Defence issues in the coming General Election.

Click here to look at the RUSI’s Future Defence Review analysis


Filed under debate, defence, News, politics

Falklands then and now: The Reckoning

After looking at the military aspects of any future war between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands, it’s now time to try and pull together and form some kind of conclusion.

I have enjoyed the discussions I have had here and elsewhere immensely, and in most cases the contributions that people have made have helped shape my own thoughts on the subject. Apart from the odd snobby comment the series has been very well received. I’m glad to have been able to make my own small contribution to debate over defence issues.

I selected the Falklands War for a case study not only because it has become tedious every time someone says ‘we could not fight another Falklands’, but as a historical example of a challenging tri-service operation it provides us with a relatively sound basis for comparing then and now. If we want to know where we are going, we need to be aware of where we are and where we have come from.

Key points

With a weaker Aircraft Carrier fleet and the retirement of the Sea Harrier any task force would struggle for air defence, in terms of numbers and effectiveness. Light Carriers proved their worth in 1982. A dedicated Naval Fighter is crucial. Without it we are lacking a layer of air defence.

The Royal Navy now has a stronger and more flexible Amphibious Warfare flotilla, and is geared up towards expeditionary warfare. However with inadequate air defence would it be possible to win sufficient air superiority to safely deploy it?

The number of Destroyers and Frigates has been cut dramatically. It is very unlikely that the Royal Navy could put together a big enough fleet to escort a task force as in 1982. There are also fewer classes of ship. The Type 45 Destroyers promise much, but there are too few of them and they are as yet unproven.

The cutting of the RFA to minimal levels means that the Royal Navy could almost certainly not operate a large task force at distance from the UK and without friendly bases – the scenario that was faced in 1982.

The Merchant Navy has also shrunk dramatically, to the point where it could not offer anything like the support that it did in 1982. Given also the pitiful state of the RFA, this makes the logistical support of any task group virtually impossible.

Whilst submarines proved to be crucial in keeping the Argentine Navy at bay in 1982, in 2009 the Royal Navy has a lot less boats available, and no diesel-electrics. However they do possess a useful strategic weapon in Tomahawk.

British Land Forces as a whole are leaner but meaner than in 1982, and also better equipped. Virtually all British units have seen service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Overstretch and deployments would limit what troops would be available.

The RAF no longer possesses a long range Bomber like the Vulcan. This however would be negated by Tomahawk. Helicopter support for the Land Forces would be crucial. Apaches also offer a useful new capability.

Command systems are much more flexible than in 1982, and much more geared up to ‘out-of-area’ operations.

Final Thoughts

So although there are some pretty depressing negatives, there are some positives to take from this analysis: some new and improved capabilities such as Tomahawk, more experienced and better equipped troops, and a better command system and culture.

However compared to these positives, the negatives are overpowering. With weaker air defence a task force would be much more vulnerable, particularly in the amphibious phase. The critical lack of Destroyers and Frigates would leave gaps in our anti-air, anti-surface and gunfire support roles. But the state of the RFA and the Merchant Navy might make the launching of any task force a non-starter simply due to an ability to maintain it logistically. It is hard to see the point of having such a strong Amphibious group if we are unable to protect it or to maintain it.

Against this background, the next natural step is to question what exactly the Government intends for British Defence policy. Effectively British Forces rely on friendly sea based air cover, and allied Destroyers and Frigates to assist in escorting and air defence. The Royal Navy is also reliant on friendly logistical support. While the Government espouses a Global Defence policy, the Royal Navy is effectively unable to operate Globally due to a lack of resources.

It could be said that another Falklands – or indeed any scenario like it – is unlikely. That is probably accurate, for all I know. But who saw the first Falklands War coming? Who could have predicted 9/11? Whilst we cannot plan for every eventuality, we can look back at history and see what can go wrong if we leave ourselves inflexible to changing world situations. It would be hard to argue that British defence policy is not facing a very serious phase in the next couple of years.


Filed under Army, Falklands War, Navy, rfa, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines, Vulcan Bomber

Guide to the Royal Navy 2010

Guide to the Royal Navy 2010

Guide to the Royal Navy 2010

I picked up this booklet yesterday, published by Warships International Fleet Review. It makes for very interesting reading. If you are interested in the Royal Navy and Defence issues I would highly reccomend picking up a copy, but I think it is worthwhile summarising the key points.

The editorial introduction sets out the running themes. The Royal Navy’s ability to act as a global force is on a knife edge, still having a fleet that can deliver Government policy and defend British interests, but its ability to do so is stretched almost to the point of fragility. This has been caused by relentless cuts, particularly in the number of hulls and retiring the Sea Harrier early. The Navy is so overstretched that it is unable to deploy beyond its standing commitments in the Gulf and the South Atlantic. The prime cause of this overstretch is the reduction in the criticial mass of numbers of Frigates and Destroyers, the workhorses of the fleet. RFA vessels have recently performed patrols that should be carried out by Frigates.

At one point the Foreign Secretary, David Milliband, promised a British Frigate to patrol off Gaza to prevent Hamas receiving arms – it later transpired that none was available. Perhaps we could borrow back the three Type 23 Frigates that we sold to Chile recently at a knock down price? A classic example of the Government expecting our armed forces to do twice as much, but with half as much resources.

The Guide argues that Labour has never been serious about funding armed forces, and particularly the Navy, but has shown an eagerness to commit them to action without investing in them. While the ongoing operation in Afghanistan is quite rightly taking priority at present, it would be very dangerous indeed to close our minds to more long term needs. Billions of pounds has been pumped into shoring up banks, while the comparatively cheap insurance policy of sufficient armed forces falls by the wayside.

Another startling Government policy is the giving of millions of pounds to India in order to eradicate poverty, while the Indian Navy embarks on spending Billions of pounds on a new Nuclear Submarine programme. British Foreign Policy may change for the better if the astute and intelligent William Hague becomes Foreign Secretary, but with ranks of former Army and even current Territorial Army officers on the Conservative benches, the Navy looks in for a rough time in the upcoming Defence Review. The expected appointment of General Sir Richard Dannatt as a special adviser on Defence will reinforce this Army-bias considerably. Already, stories have sprung up in the press arguing against the new Aircraft Carriers and Nuclear Submarines.

Britain and the Royal Navy clearly needs new Aircraft Carriers, new submarines and new Frigates. If, the Guide argues, the Government decides to scrap the current schemes for these ships, it will merely have to come up with alternatives.

Finally, the overarching argument seems to be that the next Government faces a stark choice, that has been avoided for some time – does Britain wish to be a player on the world stage? If so, we need to invest in the Royal Navy. If not, then Britain faces a future of irrelevance, inability to safeguard citizens, protect trade or play its part in securing international stability.

There are several interesting features. The first, by David Axe and based on a visit to HMS Portland while on anti-piracy patrol in the gulf of Aden, argues that cuts in the Navy would undermine security in the region. The Royal Navy’s much vaunted professionalism would be at risk if the amount of ‘sea-time’ was cut due to a reduction in ships.

An interesting article by Usman Ansari argues quite succintly that with the Navy’s move towards having less but more capable ships, a less technological but more numerous foe could easily swamp the fleet. Also, there is a startling revelation that many of the Type 23 Frigates, designed as anti-submarine vessels, do not carry towed array sonar as a costcutting measure. Therefore even the decreasing amount of ships flatter – certain ships only have certain capabilities. The potential for being caught out does not bear thinking about.

Dr Robert Farley suggests that the special relationship between the US and British Navy, whilst still strong, has come under question in recent years. In particular the US has questioned the Royal Navy’s fighting spirit after a number of embarassing incidents. US Naval figures have also been dismayed at the continual decline of the Royal Navy, and this had led to doubts as to its capability to contribute to operations.

Dr Lee Willett discusses the strategic value of Nuclear submarines, both of the attack variety and ballistic missile. Again, a reduction of hull numbers will lead to a fall in capability, and mean that replacements for the Astute Class would need to be ordered much sooner than expected due to overstretch and over-use.

Falklands veteran and air warfare expert Sharkey Ward offers some stark opinions regarding the new Aircraft Carriers and the F-35. Both projects are crucial to the UK achieving its policy of maintaining an effective expeditionary task force. With new carriers and a naval air wing, the UK will always be able to operate independently of the US, something that would not have been possible in recent years. Many developing nations have purchased the advanced MiG Flanker. Interestingly, Ward argues that the combined Carrier and F-35 projects can be achieved at less cost to the UK than the Eurofighter project – if so, this represents good value for money indeed.

Dr Dave Sloggett argues that it is crucial that a mix is found in the capabilities of the planned FSC Frigates. I reported some time ago on the C1 and C2 sub-classes that are planned, demonstrating the wide range of roles expected of the Frigate fleet.

The Guide also includes some new, exciting computer images of the new class of Aircraft Carriers, including on the flight deck and inside the aircraft hangar. Finally, this interesting publication finishes with some interesting interviews with Naval Officers and ratings, several book reviews and nostalgic articles too.

An essential read if you want to keep on top of whats happening with the Navy, interested in Defence or just generally like reading about ships.

‘Guide to the Royal Navy 2010′ is published by Warships: International Fleet Review, RRP £5.50. I picked up my copy from WH Smith.


Filed under Articles, Book of the Week, debate, Navy, politics

Britain ‘faces world choice’

Britain still has a taste for being a world power – and a determination to be a key influence on the United States, a senior defence analyst has told the BBC. But it faces a choice on how to play out that role, says Michael Codner, head of military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute.

With a general election looming and both Labour and the Tories promising to hold an early Strategic Defence Review, big questions are bound to be asked about the future of the armed forces. Structures, equipment, procurement, all depend on what exactly we plan to do with our soldiers, sailors and airmen. As war is essentially the pursuit of politics through other means, the need to form a policy on our use of defence in foreign affairs is paramount. Two big projects are likely to come under close scrutiny – the new Aircraft Carriers and our Nuclear deterrent.

One option would be to scale back on our spending, and become more of an ordinary European power, and plan to only take part in action as part of a NATO or EU alliance. This would see us lose much of our independent expeditionary capability. Whilst this would be cheaper, it would leave places such as the Falklands vulnerable, and our ability to co-operate with and influence the US would be much reduced.

Another choice would be to retrench even further and only retain the forces necessary to defend the UK, our sea lanes and our air space. But in an increasingly globalised world, this would not be feasible. History has proven that to deliver security at home you sometimes have to act further afield – Afghan poppy fields and Indian Ocean sea lanes are cases in hand.

One policy, which Mr Codner favours, is what defence experts call “strategic raiding” in which British forces are able to intervene swiftly and with a high degree of independence. It places a high value on naval and air forces for “theatre entry and sea basing”, and specialist light infantry. The classic “strategic raiding” operation, he says, is the successful British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000.

The fly in the ointment is Britain’s long-term commitment to involvement in Afghanistan. As long as we are committed to fighting in Helmand, that must quite rightly take priority in resources. But in the even-longer term, we need to leave ourselves balanced and flexible enough to meet future threats. And of course, future threats do not often give us prior notice. Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and Somali Pirates did not hand diplomatic ultimatums to British embassies. And in any case, the ‘Ostrich’ approach in the 1930’s caused us no end of trouble.

Public opinion is important. Britain has been largely succesful in its foreign interventions since Suez in 1956, and while public opinion quite rightly recoils at the sight of Union Jack draped coffins arriving home, there is also a feeling that all the time we are succesful, spending money on defence is justified. Failures, however, would bring this under the spotlight.

To achieve any kind of over-arching policy it is vital that the 3 services somehow manage to co-operate more and stop squabbling over funding and resources. This is partly as a result of Whitehall’s ‘divide and conquer’ approach to running the armed forces. But would it really be too much to ask for an Air Marshal to admit that we need Chinooks not Eurofighters, or for an Admiral to concede that we need smaller, flexible carriers and more frigates and destoyers?

We might doubt exactly how much influence the UK has over the US in terms of defence. If our generals had been listened to before the Iraq war, much of the debacle that ensued afterwards might have been avoided (see General Sir Mike Jackson’s memoirs). But on the other hand, the 1982 Falklands War, and Britain’s convincing success against the odds, had an almost immeasurable effect upon the United States military.

While much of our defence policy will be heavily scrutinised, Britain still has an influence on the world stage out of all proportion to its size. Whether, and how, this can be maintained is another matter.


Filed under Afghanistan, Army, debate, Falklands War, Navy, News, politics, Royal Air Force

RN agrees to cut in two new aircraft carriers

An artists impression of one of the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers

An artists impression of one of the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers

The Sunday Times reports that the Royal Navy’s new Aircraft Carriers will have a much reduced air wing.

Reportedly the Navy can save £8.2bn from its budget by only purchasing enough of the new Joint Strike Fighter Aircraft to equip one Aircraft Carrier. This would leave the other in the class to operate with mainly Helicopters, in an amphibious commando role. With only one ship operating in the strike carrier role, this would leave the Navy without air cover while she is in refit. Although apparently discussions have been ongoing with the French about ‘borrowing’ carriers, I doubt very much whether they would lend us Charles De Gaulle if Argentina were to have another go at the Falklands.

It was always unlikely that we would have enough aircraft to operate both of them as strike carriers at the same time – this is the case at present anyway – but by permanently designating one as a commando carrier the MOD are looking to save even more money. They know that they cannot cancel the second for fear of job losses.

Todays Portsmouth Evening News has more. The MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock, who sits on the Commons Defence Select Committee, said that he was certain that both ships would be built, but the issue would be how they would be used. An MOD spokesman gave a usually diplomatic statement, saying ‘Challenging financial circumstances mean some difficult decisions will have to be taken to prioritise our forces efforts in Afghanistan. However, the Secretary of state remains 100 per cent committed to the Aircraft Carriers. At the moment theres absolutely no threat to jobs’.

The whole affair poses very serious questions. While everyone is quite rightly focussing on Jobs, the long-term impact on the Royal Navy and UK Defence is impossible to quantify.

Why were the RAF allowed to purchase so many Eurofighters, an aircraft that cannot operate from onboard carriers? Are the RAF getting an easy ride because at present the Chief of the Defence Staff is an airman? Is there any long term planning at all in UK Defence policy apart from continual cuts, overstretch and underfund? If Afghanistan is the priority, when will there be an order for some more Chinooks, relatively cheap compared to the Eurofighter?

All in all, the Royal Navy will be left with one aircraft carrier, and one huge commando carrier, when we already have one in HMS Ocean. The Royal Navy have accepted cut after cut in the number of Destroyers and Frigates, the workhorses of the fleet, in order to get the Carriers. This leaves the Navy seriously inflexible and unbalanced. The whole affair has been badly mismanaged from the moment the Admirals started dreaming of Super-Carriers.


Filed under debate, Navy, politics, Uncategorized