A new model for Britain's Defence Forces: Part VII Conclusion

Although Britain’s Intelligence Services have continued to receive relatively generous funding over the past decade from an absolute spending perspective, it would appear that our capability does not match the expanding multiple threats, especially in the cyber domain, but also in the traditional Intelligence Services with three major threats requiring ongoing monitoring: the Islamic fundamentalism, Russia and China. To respond appropriately the government needs to at least double its organisational strength in the Intelligence Services and in the case of GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) possibly further than that.

In our overall review of Britain’s defence system, the Royal Navy comes out relatively the best in its preparedness and design of the suitability of the weapons platforms for future threats. It has managed to design, build and operate at least two world-class weapons platforms and seeks to re-establish airpower at sea with all the associated power projection capability. However, the Royal Navy is in crisis and is in urgent need of investment and expansion. This will be vital to maintaining open sea lanes and power projection, especially in a world where both Russia and especially China seek to manifest powerful blue water navies. However, the Navy is desperate for more platforms as regardless of how capable each one now is, they cannot be in two places at once. Hence, our recommendation for an immediate expansion to a 100 ship Royal Navy. Coincident with this ship expansion the Navy has to solve a major shortage of manpower urgently.

The Royal Air Force currently has the capability to defend our airspace and deploy tactical strike capabilities to a low-intensity war. However, it has been guilty of not demonstrating the foresight to create an integrated air defence of the UK using combinations of missiles and fighter aircraft. Additionally, if it is to support a new mobile British Army, it will need to enhance its heavy lift capability massively. There is also a strong case to give the RAF the equivalent of a Strategic 10 Bomber Force of the B-2 replacements for maritime control and strategic nuclear delivery as a back-up to Trident. The condition of the Army despite almost a decade and half of continuous land operations is lamentable and consequently, the worst positioned of the three services. It is now focused on a light intervention role and has abandoned the concept that it could be involved in a high-intensity war. This is a critical misjudgement that needs to be corrected urgently. Additionally, with the trend in battlefield innovations, there is an opportunity for the British Army to create a new force concept that can deploy a heavy division and ideally corps sized force to the point where they are needed rapidly. One can only conclude that to execute its role in the defence of the nation the army is in an urgent need of overhaul and expansion.

One has to ask the question why the Army has fallen into such disrepair. One cause is its increased politicisation following the Afghanistan War filtering out the more maverick straight-talking generals so we need to look, going forward, for capable and independent thought and innovation at a senior level. The second cause is that the Army may well be in a state of trauma, not dissimilar to what the US Army faced after Vietnam. It lacks a new young leadership that can create a new more effective force that was able to confront the end phases of the Cold War. One can only conclude that the very nature of leadership and the quality of the army generals need to be reviewed to ensure that the leadership can develop a realistic force structure that can fight a high-intensity war. It should be noted that the pattern that the Army is unready to fight the next war has been a regular theme in the past century. So much so that the issue may transcend current events and be founded on the very tribalistic nature of the regimental structure in the Army; which is absent from the other two services.

Additionally, the complexity of the weapons seen in the Army is far below that of the other services, perhaps maybe because the Army allows its senior officers to rise to power without an appreciation of the modern technology and the rate at which it is improving. The question that springs to mind is: “Is this a repeat of the post-WW1 'old horse versus tank' paradigm, in a modern form?” Space is the next high ground of the modern battle space and it would seem that Britain feels precluded by a lack of money. However, this is an area where cooperation with the US is vital and could bear hugh benefits. As would be the creation of a new missile defence command integrated into the RAF’s responsibility for air defence of the UK.

Civil Defence or as we call it national resilience, is the other area that has been neglected. It was once relevant with the massive arsenals associated with the Cold War and its mutually assured detection strategy MAD. However today, slowly, the risk of a nuclear exchange has increased as the Russians and Chinese have changed their first use policies and North Korea continues on its path to developing the hydrogen bomb, Thus it is time that we created a plan against the most horrendous concept of a limited nuclear strike against the nation? To not do so would be irresponsible in the utmost. There needs to be a new model for the higher command structure that demands that its commanders have mastery and a deep understanding of the capabilities of each service and how best to integrate them into a combined Arms Forces across the battlefield. There also needs to be an institutional acceptance of the errors and mistakes that have been made in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We are living at a time when new technology is evolving rapidly, which has the potential to revolutionise a battle space. A good example of this is the advent of lasers, rail guns and hypersonic missiles, all of which are game changers. Thus there is a critical need to create a future warfare centre that employs not just the military but the brightest minds in the land to anticipate new technologies and ensure that they are developed in time to meet any threat.

Regarding the leadership of the Head of the Armed Forces, there is an urgent requirement for a visionary and politically able, hard-talking leader to take the case of the Armed Forces to the politicians and to champion rapid expansion in manpower and equipment. As to which service the leader derives from, it should not ideally be from the Army with its current crisis, but on the basis that the Navy has shown the best level of vision and preparedness within the budget constraints, this leader should be an Admiral, rather than an Air Marshal. That aside, all the services require a strong and smart leader at such a critical stage of vulnerability and a new culture of cross-fertilisation and integration. This is because the wars of the future will demand ever more integration of land, air and sea capabilities. Hence, there is a desperate need for senior leadership that not only transcends the partisan approach epitomised by Air Marshall, Jock Stirrup. But someone who will have a deep knowledge of all the systems and capabilities in the air and on the ground, so that he can judge the weak links and understand where our strength lies and which weakness needs to be addressed. This new leadership would need a radical reformation of the senior officer corps, but with such a currently top heavy structure, this could be the time to put high flyers into cross-services posts and to create a new senior joint command course that addresses these issues.

In summary, Britain has chosen to stand alone apart from the EU and assert its independence. However, the price of freedom is one of constant vigilance and the willingness to fight back. Today, there is no doubt that Britain faces an ever increasing threat environment, with a resurgent Russia, the long-term challenge from ISIL and the growth of global Chinese power. The British people require its politicians and senior military leaders to take action and protect the nation. To do that we need to create a new Armed Force that acts as a deterrent rather than transmitting the current signal that we and the West are weak and unprepared, as such a situation historically has only encouraged the next conflict. Most importantly, with the long lead time to build new weapons systems, there will be no chance in a future high-intensity war to recover from the first blow and fight back. We will quite simply live or die as a nation with the capability with which we enter a future war, with no second chance. The question for the nation, its leadership and citizens is: “Do we wish to suffer such a fate?” and if not, then we need to act now before it is too late. To remedy the situation we need to make defence a national priority and increase spending to 5% of GDP as quickly as possible.

This series of blogs have been extracted from the recent article "A new model for Britain's Defence forces". If you would like a free copy please contact christel@eaml.com.