Tag Archives: ministry of defence

MOD organisation structure released

The Government has released organisation diagrams of all Departments, including the Ministry of Defence. It makes for pretty interesting reading indeed.

The diagrams show just how many deparments there are in the MOD. The chains of command are incredibly complicated, with all manner of civilians and officers involved. In most cases the diagram shows how many civilians and militarty personnel work for each person or department. In total it runs to 48 pages, covering the MOD centrally, the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force.

The first interesting point is that the main components of each service – eg Fleet, Land Forces, Air Command, Permanent Joint Headquarters, Defence Estates and Defence Equipment and support – are treated as separate from their services when it comes to budgeting. Divide and conquer perhaps, by making the services financially separate from their main components?

Another thing that strikes me is just how many senior officers work in MOD Head Office, and also civilian civil servants, all on significant salaries. This probably accounts for the oft-quoted figures about how the armed forces have more Admirals than major surface ships.

Thought it might make interesting reading for my regulars!

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PM and Defence Secretary at odds over Defence Review

Liam Fox, British Conservative politician.

Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP (Image via Wikipedia)

A leaked private letter to the Prime Minister from the Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, has shown that the current Strategic Defence and Security Review is nothing more than a cover for the Government-wide Comprehensive Spending Review. The disagreement also shows the complete disunity within the Government over the Review.

I’ve quoted below some of the most important points in the letter:

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). If it continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years. Party, media, military and the international reaction will be brutal if we do not recognise the dangers and continue to push for such draconian cuts at a time when we are at war.

How do we want to be remembered and judged for our stewardship of national security? We have repeatedly and robustly argued that this is the first duty of Government and we run the risk of having those words thrown back at us if the SDSR fails to reflect that position and act upon it.

Our decisions today will limit severely the options available to this and all future governments. The range of operations that we can do today we will simply not be able to do in the future.

The potential for the scale of the changes to seriously damage morale across the Armed Forces should not be underestimated. This will be exacerbated by the fact that the changes proposed would follow years of mismanagement by our predecessors. It may also coincide with a period of major challenge (and, in all probability, significant casualties) in Afghanistan.

Even at this stage we should be looking at the strategic and security implications of our decisions. It would be a great pity if, having championed the cause of our Armed Forces and set up the innovation of the NSC, we simply produced a cuts package. Cuts there will have to be. Coherence, we cannot do without, if there is to be any chance of a credible narrative.

Specific cuts mentioned in the letter are reducing standing naval commitments in the Indian Ocean, Carribean and Gulf, scrapping amphibious vessels and auxiliaries, the Nimrod MR4A maritime aircraft. Dr Fox implies that we could not re-do the Sierra Leone operation again, and also that we would have great trouble reinforcing the Falklands in an emergency. The ability to assist civil authorities would be reduced, as would the assistance the military could give in the event of terrorist attacks, and security for the 2012 Olympics.

Liam Fox has long been one of the Tory front-bench who I find it possible to respect – more so than most of the public schoolboy Thatcher-worshipping ilk. A former GP, and thus one of the few prominent politicians nowadays who has had a career other than politics or ‘policy’, he’s spent a long time in the Shadow Cabinet in various roles. Having been Shadow Defence Secretary for almost five years might be expected to have some idea of what he’s talking about.

I think the severe lack of senior politicians with any kind of armed forces experience - or for that matter with any experience of knowledge of history - shows. Any decision-maker with any sense would be looking closely at John Nott‘s 1981 Defence Review as a how-not-to-do-it. Yet that is exactly what Cameron and Osborne propose. It’s rather sad to think that the Conservatives came to power after touting themselves as the party of the armed forces. Even their former pet General, Sir Richard Dannatt, has waded in on Dr Fox’s side.

Fox’s reference to the possible reaction amongst the party membership is interesting. Although it is often thought that the Tory is made up of lots of ex-Guards Officers, via Eton and Sandhurst, the only former soldier of note on the Tory front bench is Ian Duncan-Smith. There are more than a few ex-military backbenchers, but how much influence do they have over ‘Dave’ Cameron and Boy George? I can’t imagine them, nor the Tory old guard around Britain, being too happy about the hatchet being wielded over the armed forces.

It is hard to disagree either with the assertion that the safety and security of the nation is the first duty of any Government. If they fail with that, then we’d all might as well give up. It’s no good having wonderful schools, hospitals and a thriving economy if enemies – either other states or terrorists – are able to disrupt our everyday lives at will. When we’re conducting an intervention abroad, say in Iraq or Afghanistan, we get the security sorted first, in order for the reconstruction to start. Why should the principle be any different when it comes to Defence closer to home?

Another thought that is deeply disturbing… if the Defence Secretary is having to write to the Prime Minister explaining his concerns about how the Review is progressing, who the hell is producing the review? It’s not a Defence Review… its a pure and simple cuts package. At least previous reviews made some attempt at sketching out the strategic direction. That somebody in the MOD feels the need to leak such a letter is indicative of how poorly this is being handled.

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‘Why things don’t happen’ – calls for a cheap Frigate

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The RUSI has published another thought-provoking article on the state of Britain’s armed forces, that is bound to inform debate and discussion around the ongoing Strategic Defence Revew.

In ‘Why things don’t happen: silent principles of national security’, Jeremy Blackham and Gwyn Prins argue that the deepest issues in British Defence are the most silent – principally, the Royal Navy. The article argues that geopolitics makes a maritime framework imperative for the future of Britain’s armed forces. However, the Royal Navy has progressively – or regressively – become weaker and weaker, to the point of not being able to meet the challenges facing it.

The Royal Navy has often been called the silent service – it goes about its business quietly, efficiently, largely away from public gaze and without without blowing its own trumpet. However, in todays media-savvy world, has this led to the Royal Navy being quietly maligned? The Royal Navy, the authors argue, is the main force safeguarding Britain’s silent security principles.

The same authors argued in an earlier article that the Royal Navy was in danger of losing coherence, with ships that were largely a hangover form the Cold War reducing overall utility in a changing world. One of the other points made, that I totally agree with, is that the deeper principles of defence and security are drowned-out by inter-service politicking. And given that the Navy is overhwelmingly a platform-based service, it is at the mercy of funding and equipment issues.

That ‘hard power’ is being replaced by ‘soft power’ was suggested in a major speech by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2007. Similarly to Tony Blair‘s Chicago ‘Blair Doctrine’ speech, Brown’s policy brought about consistent growth in the international aid budget, while the Defence budget became more and more squeezed year on year. Yet this naive believe in throwing money at developing countries (and countries that are richer than the UK, for that matter) is intellectually bankrupt if it comes at the expense of the defence that can safeguard humanitarian intervention. part of the problem, however, is that the carefree signing of cheques to foreign countries is so ingrained in decision-makers , that – in the words of the authors - “It demands a bonfire of current assumptions, plus the demolition and rebuilding of current institutions.”

The MOD’s procurement spending comes in for particularly harsh criticism – it is argued that up to a third of the MOD’s budget is wasted by indecision and delays. The problem is, however, that while the country is effectively at war in Afghanistan, peacetime constraints are still over-riding all decisions in Whitehall – primarily, a desire to cut costs at all times.

The authors also look at globalisation. The real impact of globalisation, they argue, is that states and societies are – more than ever – interdependent. Trade and economies are so interconnected that a small problem anywhere could spell disaster for other parts of the world. But this interdependence is subject to very few checks and balances, as the UN is frequently bypassed and ignored.

The Defence Green Paper’s suggestion that Britain align herself more closely with France is odd to say the least – Britain has since 1945 had wildly varying strategic interests with France. French politicians are hardly likely to take decisions with British interests in mind – De Gaulle is an obvious example.

The article goes onto look at a subject that has occupied much of my attention as of late – that of military tribalism. Although the Ministry of Defence has been the primary agency of Defence planning since the demise of the single-service ministries, it is still governed by a deeply-tribal system. The individual chiefs of staff are the tribal chiefs of their service, making it very difficult for them to agree to any decisions that reflect badly on them in this capacity. Against this tribal atmosphere, ‘jointness’ has been a policy used by the Treasury to divide and rule the services. Jointness may be anathema to many wishing to preserve their independence, but recent – and not so recent – history shows us that no operation in war is ever really not of a joint nature. Evacuations and Invasions are a prime example, and the Royal Marines usually exert an influence out of all proportion to their size. The argument is, therefore, that by protecting their independence, the services are actually shooting themselves in the foot.

The post-Cold War run-down of the Royal Navy has been conducted very much in a climate of ‘nothing ever happens’. Because no major or even medium level war has occured for some time, the assumption is that good order is now a constant. The authors argue, however, that this good order and lack of major conflict is precisely because of pre-emption and deterrent, both nuclear and conventional. The suggestion is that when something does not happen, it is because someone of something has stopped it from happening, or has made it impossible to occur in the first place. The example offered by the authors is that of world trade – if less ships were available to patrol the worlds trade routes, would threats emerge as a result?

 The British Empire was largely built in seapower, which in turn was built on control of the oceans. Perhaps the modern public is seablind thanks to the growth of air travel, but the bulk of Britain’s trade – and crucial elements such as fuel – still comes by sea. And as much of this trade has to transit a small number of choke points – Hormuz, and Suez for example – it is highly vulnerable. Against this background, and that of Britain’s shrinking fleet, states such as India and Australia are expanding their naval resources. Japan is opening a naval base in Djibouti, in order to safeguard her shipping off Somalia.

And so to the size and structure of the Royal Navy. Whilst Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon justified the failure to build new ships, by arguing that as newer ships were bigger and more advanced, they would have more capability and would be able to take on the roles that strength-in-numbers would normally handle. Yet all common sense and logic suggests that a low number of high-spec ships are not ideal for policing the globes sea lanes. Crucially, however, the polarity between high and low intensity operations is seen as alarming – it should be seen more as a spectrum; a sliding scale.

A concise table in the article shows just how hamstrung the Royal Navy will be in future years. In 2010 it has 23 Frigates, with an average age of 15 years and across 4 types. By 2020 this will be 21 ships, with an average age of 21 – the age frequently understood to be the limit of a ships active service life. The perils are all too clear. This force structure has been largely built around the need to escort the two new aircraft carriers, yet Britain is very unlikely to go to war in a conventional manner with a full carrier battle group, and in any case European Navies have ample air defence escorts of their own that could be co-opted. The other problem is that the high cost of Type 45 Destroyers is likely to hamper the number of more useful Type 26 Frigates that can be procured. Such a building programme, the authors argue, effectively tells the world that Britain is ‘signing off’ from maritime security.

So, what steps can be put in place to rectify the slide? Firstly, that strength in depth is important not only for presence and replacability, but also for deterrent value – if the enemy know that you are unlikely to respond, they are more likely to act. And, ‘if you cannot afford to lose a ship, then you cannot afford to use it’. The authors would scap the Type 26 C2 design, and would replace them with 10 cheap Frigates within 10 years, effectively an equivalent of the Type 21 Class in the 1970′s. The Danish Absalon Class, and the Dutch Holland Class, are offered up as inspiration of what can be achieved at much lower cost than the Type 45 and 26 programmes. A cheap, multi-pupose frigate would be of far more use patrolling sea lanes and combatting pirates than a Type 45 Destroyer.

Interesting thoughts indeed…

Read the full article here

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Review of the MoD – welcome news?

Credit where credit’s due, I find it hard to argue with Liam Fox’s announcement yesterday regarding reforming the MoD. And I never thought I would find myself agreeing with a Conservative Defence Secretary!

It’s long been one of the worst kept secrets in Britain that the MoD has become a bit of a monster – employing thousands of people, multiplying all the time in terms of managers, departments and committees, losing track of its own finances, making a hash of procurement and generally losing sight of what its there for. Its noticeable that during the many Defence Review’s over the past 50 or so years, the armed forces themselves have been hammered repeatedly, while the Ministry itself has sat untouchable on a pedestal.

Working in local government, I can kind of see what the problem is, only my experience is obviously on a much smaller scale. I get the feeling that the response to any problem over the past few years has been to appoint another manager, ending up with layer upon layer of ‘non-jobs’, people who are there building their own little empires but adding very little value to the bigger picture.

Its my opinion that if you work for any public sector organisation, you need to never lose sight of why you are there. In the MoD’s case, it is to equip and support our armed services. But there are plenty of cases of MoD mandarins losing the plot with senior officers because their decisions did not fit in with their precious process management. The dog should wag the tail, not the other way round. When you add in a New-Labour style obsession with publicity and Stalinist control, its no wonder that the MoD has become so unfit for purpose.

Stories abound of the MoD spending millions on swanky new officers and modern art installations, while servicemen’s barracks are in a dilapidated state and men were going to war with inadequate equipment. OK so its an oft-quoted cliche, but that sort of thing should be anathema to the MoD. The culture of the organisation needs to change – civil servants are there to serve the country (the clue is in the name), and in the MoD, they can best do that by supporting the forces, not treating them as an inconvenience that mucks up their nice neat plans.

The intention with scrapping the old Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry back in the 1960′s was to bring Defence and the armed forces together, kicking and screaming into the modern age. However after the initial forming of the MoD – which was traumatic enough – it seems that no-one had the stomach to push for further reforms. Although there has been a growth of jointery in recent years as the result of cost-cutting, there is still a feeling of the three services always squabbling against each other, and the Treasury happily shafting everyone.

Dr Fox also mentioned the possibility of reforming command structures within the armed forces themselves. If units are to be cut and equipment is going to be scrapped, and even the MoD itself is going to be reformed, it is hard to see how the senior officers can escape. I’ve thought for a while that the armed forces do seem a little top heavy with Admirals, Generals and Air Marshals – isn’t it slightly strange how we have more Admiral’s than major surface warships, for example? While the forces themselves have shrunk since the end of the Cold War, command structures and senior posts have largely remained the same.

The thing is, the heads of the individual services are so disempowered nowadays, as all spending and decision making is made by the MoD and the politicians, that they are effectively just advisors. Operations come directly under the Chief of Defence Staff, through the Permanent Joint Headquarters. Each service also has a Commander-in-Chief just below the overall Chief, so with the expected shrinkage of the forces we might see these two levels of post merge. And how many senior officers do we have who are in posts such as ‘Vice Deputy Chief of Procurement (Shoelaces)?

It might just makes the forces more efficient – less people, less links in the chain, less complicated. The idea of reforming the MoD into three pillars – policy and strategy, armed forces and procurement and estates – does seem to me to be a step forward from what at present is a grossly untidy situation. I know a lot of people will deride these reforms as cuts, and of course they are, but root-and-branch overhaul has to be better than salami slicing.

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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.

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Contract signed for next phase of Type 26 warship project

The MOD has recently signed a contract with BAE systems for the Assessment Phase of the Royal Navy’s planned Type 26 combat ship, the next generation of British warships.

A joint BAE-MOD team will work on designs for the Type 26 class, which are due to replace the Type 22 and Type 23 Frigates by the end of the decade. The Type 26 nomenclature has been used, as the Type 24 and Type 25 Frigates were projects that never left the drawing board. By giving the project a formal Type name, the MOD is making it seem that much more of a reality.

According to the official MOD press release, the purpose of the Assessment phase will be to ensure ‘…that the necessary capabilities identified during the Strategic Defence Review are incorporated into the Type 26 design’.

The published key design aims for the Type 26 are for a ship that is:

• Versatile – able to undertake a number of roles;
• Flexible – to adapt to the changing needs of defence;
• Affordable – both in build and support through its service life;
• Exportable – designed with the international market in mind.

I have long thought that these ships will be very important to the future of the Royal Navy. The design aims seem to be broadly sensible, and of course affordability will be important in the current economic climate. That the Assessment phase is largely dependant on the Strategic Defence Review may seem worrying, but it is also pragmatic – there is no sense in forging ahead with a project that may be cancelled or radically altered. And ship design and procurement needs to work within the broader strategic context.

The Royal Navy is currently far behind many of its allies where smaller escort ships are concerned – the Danish Absalon and the Swedish Visby classes are examples of this. Its crucial that the Type 26 is delivered.

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Guthrie: cuts ‘essential’

A former Head of Britain’s Armed Forces has warned that the Ministry of Defence is not fit for purpose. In a speech at the Centre for Policy Studies, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank considered the options for the looming Strategic Defence Review, due after the General Election.

Guthrie was Chief of the Defence Staff during the last Strategic Defence Review in 1998, and thus has much experience of working through the trying process of a Review.

Guthrie outlined three options:

  • to give the defence budget a large increase (unlikely)
  • to make large cuts, particularly to equipment programmes, and ruthlessly to prioritise
  • Third to do nothing (impossible)

Guthrie said, “The second option is the only realistic choice. There is actually a very good case for increasing defence spending although alas there appears very little hope of this happening whatever Government appears after the next election.”

Like all other Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals, Guthrie advocates his own service. This is not un-natural. The key thrust of his speech seems to be that the Army must be protected at all costs, as current and future threats point to a need for more troops, not less. In Guthrie’s opinion, savings should be found in ‘nice to have, but non-essential’ assets such as the huge purchase of Eurofighters, 2 large new aircraft carriers and the need to renew the Strategic Nucear Deterrent. While the Admirals and Air Marshals will cry foul, in hindsight (always a wonderful thing) they set themselves up for cuts by ordering such expensive programmes at all.

I believe that Guthrie is correct with his ‘nice to have, but not essential’ theory. It would be nice if we could a vast fleet and an air armada, but in challenging economic times we cannot afford to be all things to all people. In the same manner, we cannot afford to plan accurately for every future threat that we may face, and we should especially not try to do this at the expense of current conflicts. The irony is, that failure in current conflicts would seriously affect the future wars in any case.

Aside from talking about the Armed Forces, Guthrie also posed serious questions about the MOD itself. “Dr John Reid, when he moved from Defence to the Home Office questioned whether it was fit for purpose. Could he have asked the same question about the MoD?” The mishandling of procurement in particular does suggest that large parts of the MOD are unfit and inefficient. And if the ‘front-line’ services have to face cuts, surely the MOD should contract in line with them?

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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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Brown’s Iraq evidence ‘disingenuous’: a historical perspective

Hot on the heels of Gordon Brown’s appearance at the Iraq Inquiry, two former heads of the Armed Forces have described his evidence as ‘not true’ and ‘disingenuous’.

Lord Guthrie, Chief of Defence Staff between 1997 and 2001, said “The whole defence budget was extremely difficult to run in his time. For Gordon Brown to say he has given the military all they asked for is not true. They asked for more helicopters but they were told they could not have any more.”

Lord Boyce, his successor from 2001 until 2003, said “He [Gordon Brown] is dissembling, he’s being disingenuous. It’s just not the case that the Ministry of Defence was given everything it needed. There may have been a 1.5 per cent increase in the defence budget but the MoD was starved of funds.”

The Prime Minister had stated in his evidence to the Iraq Inquiry that the Armed Forces were given everything that they had asked for before and during the Iraq War. After Guthrie and Boyce’s comments a Downing Street Spokesman claimed that no ‘request for equipment had ever been turned down’.

This is hard to believe in the extreme. It is the job of the Defence Staff to ask for what they need. It is also the job of the Chancellor and the Treasury to try and keep down exenditure. Somewhere in the middle should be negotiations that lead to a workable budget. It might sound good to say defence should get a blank cheque, but we must be realistic about this – you shouldnt write cheques that you cannot cash. But by the same token, you shouldn’t expect your forces to do what you want without equipping them properly.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, who retired as head of the British Army last year, said that “Defence inflation runs higher than normal inflation so when additional money has gone to defence over the years, the spending power of that money has reduced… in 2003, the Treasury reopened an agreement on funding it had with the Ministry of Defence and effectively cut £1bn out of our budget year on year.”

Dannatt also claimed that while Brown was right that Urgent Operational Requirements were usually accepted, there were underlying problems due to long-term underfunding of the Armed Forces. History would appear to prove him right. Ever since the end of the Cold War Governments have sought to keep defence spending as low as possible.

The current situation has striking parallels with the funding of the Armed Forces between 1918 and 1939. After the mass slaughter on the western front, naturally enough Britain hoped that she would never again have to fight such a devestating war. And as for many years there was no visible prospect of another world war, Defence Spending was drastically cut. The Royal Navy declined in size.

The Conservative Government of the 1920′s played a conspicuous part in leaving Britain woeufully under-prepared for war in 1939. A policy was put in place that assumed that the country would have to take part in no major war for at least 10 years. The ’10 year rule’ led to a lack of long-term investment in defence. Such a long-term inertia takes a long term to turn around.

This was shown not only in the numbers of men and units in the forces, but also their equipment. In particular, British tanks were hopelessly inadquate when compared to the German Panzers. Britain was forced into pressing into action makeshift weapons such as the the Sten Gun, as it was quick, cheap and easy to produce, even though it had very mixed results.

The irony is, that from their accession to power in 1933 until war broke out in 1939, it had only taken six years for Europe to slide to war. Clearly 10 years was far too long a period to look into the future. When in the mid 1930′s it seemed that war with Germany was inevitable, Britain was already playing catch up. As a result she had to rely largely on american lend-lease equipment, and fighting the war left her essentially bankrupt. There are some historians who argue that Britain’s appeasement policy prior to 1939 was her only option, given how unprepared she was to fight.

Much as a lack of investment in the 1920′s and 30′s led to the British Armed forces being wholly unprepared for war in 1939, so a lack of investment since the end of the Cold War seems to have left them struggling to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 onwards. Much of the equipment the Army have used in Iraq and Afghanistan was designed for fighting in the Cold War, on the North German plains – the Warrior Armoured Vehicles in particular.

The lesson is clear – long-term under-investment in the armed forces has effects out of all proportion to the relatively small savings that can be made. Usually, the mad scramble to prepare for an unforseen war ends up costing more anyway. Surely that fact that so many Urgent Operational Requirements are needed at all is evidence of the problem?

By the way, who was the Chancellor who set in place the 10 year rule?

A certain Winston Churchill, no less.

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Army says it need 20,000 more soldiers

The Daily Telegraph has obtained a British Army Document stating that it needs 20,000 extra soldiers in order to meet its commitments.

One of the most telling comments concerns the trade-off between equipment and manpower:

“We should be mindful of the fact that our US, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand allies have all recently increased the size of their Armies by approaching 20 per cent. Indeed defence may need to prioritise manpower over equipment if that is what we require to fight wars in the 21st Century.”

The Army spends dramatically less on equipment on the Royal Navy and the RAF. By presenting the upcoming Defence Review in terms of this choice, the Army is placing itself very well for what will be a very tough process.

The Army currently has 101,000 men and women serving in its ranks. It consists of 37 Battalions of Infantry (Light role, Mechanized, Armoured, Air Assault and Special Forces support), 10 Armoured Regiments (Formation and Recce), 16 Artillery Regiments (Air Defence, MLRS, Armoured, Light Gun, Surveillance), 15 Engineer Regiments, 10 Signals Regiments, 21 Logistics Regiments and 6 Army Air Corps Regiments. Modern Warfare calls for such a plethora of supporting services.

The fall in the numbers of Infantry units has been most marked. In 2004, with the end of Operations in Northern Ireland, the Treasury forced the Army to cut its Infantry strength by 4 Battalions. Supposedly not needing to base Battalions in Northern Ireland meant that the Army needed less of them. This is despite the fact that the Army had too few Battalions at the time anyway. As traumatic as they were to regimental identities, the 2004 reforms were right to establish larger Regiments with more Battalions.

The Options for Change review in 1990 set the current tone for Army cuts. With the end of the Cold War it was felt that the Army no longer neeed to to base such large forces in Germany with the British Army of the Rhine. Throughout the 1990′s successive cuts sliced away at the Army’s strength. Now, even though the Army is fighting a strenuous war in Afghanistan that is at present involving 6 Infantry Battalions, the cutting mentality is still there – Politicians, as ever, are obsessed with peace dividends. Yet the other combat arms and supporting corps’ seem to have escaped the severity of cuts.

Perhaps it is a case of the Army looking at its structure? Whilst it is unwise to plan only for the current war, when the armed forces are looking at having such limited budgets, it is more important to win a war we are fighting now than to sacrifice it for a war we know nothing about. The Infantry time and time again have been the key force in wars, and the war in Helmand right now is very much an infantryman’s war. The Taliban and other asymetric forces fight in an old fashioned, guerilla manner, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have demonstrated that large numbers of troops are needed to hold and secure ground in this context.

Perhaps also it is time to look beyond the narrow specialised roles of infantry? The Cold War in particular led to a large number of armoured and mechanised infantry Battalions sat in Germany. Such units then took almost a year to retrain to serve on the streets of Northern Ireland. In my opinion the primary role of infantry should be exactly that, to fight as foot soldiers. Specialist roles such as armoured and air assault should be an additional flexibility that all are capable of. The British Army has an Air Assault Brigade, yet infantry units that are not part of this Brigade regularly take part in helicopter assaults.

If only the RAF can be persuaded to invest in troop-carrying helicopters and close-air support…

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MOD announces new aviation safety authority

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has today announced the creation of a new military airworthiness authority to ensure aviation safety standards are of the highest order at all times.

The Military Aviation Authority (MAA) has been created as part of the MOD’s full response to the Nimrod Review by Charles Haddon-Cave QC following the deaths of 14 service personnel onboard Nimrod XV230 on 2 September 2006. The MAA will include an independent body to audit and scrutinize air safety activity, and will be in place by 5 April 2010.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said: “I am grateful for the detailed proposals the Nimrod Review has made. We have examined these proposals thoroughly for the past seven weeks and we are already taking action to implement them, including the creation of the Military Aviation Authority to provide the leadership needed to deliver the highest safety standards. This is the most radical reform to MOD’s airworthiness procedures since military aviation began”.

The new authority sounds encouraging, and hopefully will take airworthiness considerations out of the sole hands of the services themselves, who are so hamstrung by lack of investment that tragic accidents like this are sadly all too possible. Will it be just another bolted-on authority within the Ministry of Defence, another job for another senior officer with a bloated staff retinue?

The problems go beyond safety itself, but extend to the culture of the Ministry of Defence. The procurement of quality equipment, from boots to warships, is low on the agenda, as is maintenance. All too frequently the forces have had to retire ships or aircraft early that were facing extensive repair bills or expensive upgrades.

The new body is also in line with recent moves to streamline the organisation of assetts across the three services, particularly air assetts. We already have the Joint Force Harrier and the Joint Helicopter Force. As I have already reported recently there are extraordinary politics regarding military aviation, with the RAF protective of its independence and resenting the Fleet Air Arm and the Army Army Air Corps, but unwilling to support the Navy or the Army as much as it could.

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Navy and RAF hit by Defence cuts

The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force have been hit by a round of spending cuts.

The Portsmouth Evening News reports that one minesweeper and one survey vessel will be decommissioned. There are also strong rumours that the ice patrol ship HMS Endurance, which needs extensive repairs after almost sinking a year ago, may not be replaced. Whilst it will be sad if Endurance does go, the UK does have a permanent patrol ship in the Falklands, HMS Clyde, as well as a Frigate or Destroyer and RFA vessel on station all-year round.

The BBC News website reports that RAF Cottesmore, the base for the Joint Force Harrier, will be closed and all Harriers transferred to RAF Wittering. The Harrier force, however, will be taken out of service earlier than planned. This will almost certainly be before its replacement, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, will be available, leaving a huge gap in ground attack and naval air power capabilities. Might this also lead to the Invincible Class Aircraft Carriers being phased out earlier than planned, as there will be no planes capable of operating from them?

The Tornado GR Force will also lose one Squadron, from either RAF Lossiemouth or RAF Marham. The Tornado’s are due to be phased out in favour of the Eurofighter in coming years. There may also be cuts in the Nimrod reconaissance aircraft fleet.

The cuts are being made in order to fund the purchase of 22 new Chinook Heavy lift helicopters, bringing the RAF’s total fleet up to 70. The Chinook is an incomparable aircraft and has proved invaluable in Afghanistan. Cynics have questioned why the contract has been given to Boeing, a US Company, but the answer is that no UK company is capable of building a similar size aircraft.

These cuts, whilst demonstrating that the Ministry of Defence has as lot of work to do to get its house in order and can expect no increase in funding, must be welcomed as refocussing on our priorities and taking account of financial realities. When you have limited funds you have to prioritise.

Andrew Brookes, a former RAF pilot and director of the Air League, told BBC News: “If you cut back the premier league capability of the UK forces in order to just win a counter insurgency campaign against the Taliban, which has no air force and has no tanks and has no warships, when you finally do pitch up against a state that has those capabilities you could seriously end up losing a conflict that really matters to the UK in future in order to win one in Afghanistan today.” The almost sneering reference to a ‘counter-insurgency campaign’ is most unhelpful and based more on partisan loyalties than wider UK defence interests. The Cold War finished 20 years ago, yet some seem determined to keep fighting it.

The RAF has historically eschewed combined operations, and has for many years seen its independence as a service based in fast Jets. In comparison, it has given a low priority to supporting the Army with transport or ground attack aircraft as these roles undermine its independence. That the Army has to have its own Apache helicopter gunships says a lot. The reason that the RAF has had to be strong-armed into buying more helicopters now is that it has neglected its helicopter support role for many years in the first place.

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MOD may need to write off ‘tens of millions’

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) may need to write off tens of millions of pounds due to inefficiencies in its expenses system, the UK House of Commons Defence Committee has heard. The committee also heard the MoD deny that its focus on efficiency savings is the main cause of failures relating to its equipment procurement processes, reports Janes Defence weekly.

Although problems with expenses are nothing new, especially in Government Departments, you would think that at a time when Soldiers are crying out for more and better kit, that civil servants would ease off on their expenses just a bit. It kind of shows the culture of the MOD sadly.

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anger at MOD bonuses

There has been widespread anger at the news that the Ministry of Defence has paid over £47 million worth of bonuses to 50,000 civilian staff for ‘outstanding performance’. The negotiated pay deals saw the civil servants earning an average of just less than £1,000 each. By contrast, a Private in the British Army earns less than £17,000 a year.

Defence Minister Kevin Jones revealed the figures after a written question in Parliament. The revelation comes at a sensitive time, when British forces are suffering serious casualties in Afghanistan, there are calls for more Helicopters, and all armed forces face a savage defence review after the next general election.

There is something fundamentally at odds here. On the one hand the MOD is lavishing bonuses on civilian staff, while looking to make cuts in front line services. There is nothing wrong with employing civilians: in many cases it makes much more sense to employ civilians than have the job performed by a serviceman. Administration, for example, can be performed just as well by a civilian worker. Arguments that civil servants often go into the front line shows the extent of cuts to the services. Personally, I feel that any military-related job that entails someone going into harms way should not be performed by a civilian.

The MOD and civil service unions argue that the payments come from central salary budgets, were already negotiated and have no effect on operational spending. However, this does not add up. Anyone with a simple understanding of Government spending knows that it is quite simple to make savings in one area to transfer the surplus to another.

Not only does this show that the MOD’s values are not the same as those of the armed forces,and that the Government’s priorities are not with the men at the coalface, it sends a disgraceful signal to soldiers, sailors and airmen, and their families. In my own experience, if you cannot subscribe to the values of an organisation, you should not be working there. Hence, I feel that to work in the MOD and accept bonuses, all the time that our armed forces are under such difficulties, is immoral.

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RFA cuts due to shipping lobby?

The head of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary has suggested that proposed cuts are due to the powerful shipping lobby pressuring the Government into giving them business, The Portsmouth News reports.

An RFA ship at work

An RFA ship at work

Commodore Bill Walworth said: ‘The RFA has been specifically identified by the Treasury as an area for review against the requirements of Value for Money and the Operational Efficiency Programme.

‘As the world economy has slowed the shipping industry has been affected badly, and we believe they have lobbied government vigorously in order to gain business and diversify.’

These proposed cuts come less than three years after a review of the RFA, when the Government promised work until 2025, and represent a curious u-turn.

If this really a case of big powerful firms bullying the Government, the Ministry of Defence should be up front and honest about its motives, and not pretend that it is looking to make savings in the interests of efficiency when really it is cosying up to commercial interests. Our armed forces do not exist to indulge the private sector.

National defence and security should not be privatised to the point of compromising our armed forces and our servicemen. Capability and efficiency should always come before private profits.

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