DefenceSynergia End of Year (2017) Assessment of Where Defence Stands

As 2018 beckons DefenceSynergia (DS) has collectively considered where the United Kingdom (UK) stands in relation to defence. DS concludes that now is the time for Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) to take a broad view of defence, yet seemingly, that is what the United Kingdom (UK) government is in danger of not doing if it allows its mini Security and Defence Review to become yet another Defence cut.

DS believes that the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is at a point where it is unable to do what is required, especially as senior officers seem unwilling to say NO to ministers. It seems to DS that HMG, wants to cover the increased threat from cyber at the expense of other capabilities within the context of a ‘UK security cost neutral’ review. If so, can they keep Conventional Forces and Continual at Sea Deterrence (CASD) as planned in Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015? Will the National Security Adviser (NSA), take the easier option of recommending reducing budgets in MoD capabilities to fund enhanced wider UK Cyber security which are beyond a purely military responsibility? Or should this new ‘threat’, that has been around and formally acknowledged for decades, be funded by new money as part of a coherent military and wider government non-military led cyber security and resilience Capability – one small element of which is relevant to the MoD?

If the mini-SDSR is resource constrained, then the statement that “Defence of the Realm is the first priority of government” is no longer true in conventional military terms. Rather it should now read “Defence of the Realm is a factor of how much threat HMG is prepared to recognise and fund across a spectrum of activities”. The modern context defending the UK against the ‘known and declared threats’ is in danger of creating high risk of not being able to provide properly military responses in the physical world, whilst offering platitudes to the people to defend them in the cyber environment. According to HMG the traditional threat from Russia, China and other belligerents is increasing, yet the military Defence budget is stagnant at best.

HMG seems to be combining defence with security, one suspects, as part of a budgetary accountancy trick to keep spending above the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) 2% threshold, rather than a more comprehensive approach to defence. No one, least alone DS, would expect that the MoD, Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) or anyone else be given an unlimited budget. However, DS agrees with Dr Julian Lewis, the Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, that an increase in defence spending of 3-4% would be appropriate if the NATO declared figure is to include cyber, SIS, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) as well as defence in the same package.

To aid coherence DS would suggest the following policy adjustments:

1. Where UK cyber security is concerned, determine that activity which is a military responsibility and that which is a wider UK security services and industry responsibility and fund accordingly.

2. Balance the need for networking with air gapped security to protect data and prioritise where the money provided is put to best use.

3. For Defence per se, HMG to decide once and for all the areas where the UK can and should contribute and resource them properly. One thing is certain, cutting back on naval assets and Amphibious Capability is NOT the answer, how else are we to move the Army from the UK to where it might be needed in a reasonable time frame? How does the UK contribute to global maritime security? Some or all of the following areas should be considered vital to current and future UK Defence:

a. CASD.

b. UK air-defence (AD).

c. Re examine transition to war (TTW) planning – re introducing asset dispersement measures and rethinking base closures and redundancies.

d. Setting up viable Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) measures should be a priority, given the increased ranges of some state actors’ missiles, nuclear or otherwise.

e. Providing expeditionary mission adaptable Forces by 2020.

f. Retaining sufficient manpower in each Service to provide the necessary manpower mass to man the equipment being procured.

g. Stepping back from the over-reliance on fewer, more expensive, more complex, less reliable, and greater support overhead equipment and systems.

h. UK Armed Forces need more mass in terms of more cost effective and operationally adaptable equipment, and more manpower to man them and provide failure, loss and casualty attrition resilience.

i. Inform the public of the shortfalls so that they know and can act if they want.

DS does not have all the answers and what we suggest will require change and should be publicly debated. However, without doctrinal thinking change, increasing equipment and manpower numbers, and a transparent public debate Her Majesty’s Armed Forces will continue to decay and the UK will be left defenceless by incremental reductions.

Whatever the outcome of the mini-SDSR, DS wishes every success to the new Chief of Defence Staff and Single Service Chiefs in 2018. We hope they have the wisdom and robustness to: withstand the ever increasing, short-termism, onslaught on military Capabilities and budgets; cleverly balance available resources to maximise UK military combat effect and credibility; temper unrealistic government aspiration with the reality of what can be delivered within allocated MOD resources; and resist and reverse the trend of substituting mass of people and equipment that provide flexibility, spread of reach and adaptability of manoeuvre with a few military option restraining overly expensive, budget sapping, overly complex, adaptability limited and long gestation and combat constrained platforms.

DS hopes that by 2019 some of the issues raised above will have been addressed, the public feel less threatened and those who serve are better able to deliver to British standards. For, to paraphrase and update in a joint way the famous words carved above the Royal Naval College portal:

“It is upon the (armed services) under the good Providence of God that the safety, honour, and welfare of this realm do (ultimately and) chiefly depend.”