National Defence & Strategy Research Group
Exposing the incoherence and weakness in the United Kingdom’s
Defence and Security Strategies
DefenceSynergia’s Input to the Mini SDSR Process and the HoCDC
Winston Churchill was once asked by a new MP what he considered an MP’s most important quality. The great man replied ‘Courage’.
The MP was a little surprised, perhaps thinking that qualities such as loyalty, integrity or some such more likely; so, he asked ‘Why is that?’. Churchill replied ‘It is the quality that guarantees all the others’.
So it is with defence: the government responsibility that guarantees all the others can be delivered.
Someone needs to remind the government of this fundamental point, which they are ignoring, as have other governments since the Berlin Wall came down, favouring hubris over commitment.
It is understood that the Ministry of Defence is finding it necessary to undertake an “interim” Security and Defence Review (SDSR) in order to resolve a very large shortfall in the defence and security budget. Since DefenceSynergia (DS) believes that the last two SDSRs fall short in providing proper operational capability in both national and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) terms, we offer a brief input to the House of Commons Defence Committee’s (HoCDC) consideration of the content and flexibility of the United Kingdom’s (UK) Order of Battle (OOB).
Placing Defence and Security in a Global Strategic Context
Researchers at ‘European Geostrategy’ view global power in four categories: Super Power, Global Power, Regional Power and Local Power. They concluded that of the top 15 most powerful nations the United States of America (USA) is the world’s only super power and the UK the only Global Power with the eight Regional Powers being France, China, Russia, Japan, Australia, Canada, India and Germany and Local Power vested in Italy, Spain, South Korea, Brazil, and Turkey. [European Geostrategy ‘Audit of Major Powers’: the world’s fifteen most powerful countries 7th January 2014 – amended by updated soft power inclusions August 2017]
The UK also scores highly in the independent Chinese global ranking system known in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as ‘Comprehensive National Power (CNP)’ which influences contemporary PRC political thought on the general power of various nation states. The consensus is that the United States has the highest CNP rating/score and that mainland China’s CNP ranks far behind the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France and Germany. The key in this matter is that while countries like China have a larger military than for example the United Kingdom, it does not currently have the logistical capability to deploy, support and sustain those forces overseas in large numbers.
In spite of these rankings, when viewed objectively and in the short to medium term, there is very significant incoherence in the United Kingdom’s OOB and the necessary flexibility to deploy it in the variety of threat scenarios that are current and developing.
The UK’s current spending commitments have placed her in the very difficult position that the means of correcting this incoherence require an increase of funding or further savings measures in capabilities that are weak and would become irrelevant. Additionally, it would seem that the demands of the Exchequer to fund other Departments of State seek to demand even further savings from the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
Given these on-going downward pressures on MOD funds and resources, the uncertainty of future military ‘special’ relations with the Trump administration, the uncertainty of UK’s military involvement with the EU post BREXIT, and wider global military challenges, Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has a lack of defence strategic direction against which Government Departments, including the Ministry of Defence (MOD), can test policy and plans. As a result, commensurate security and defence expenditure overruns thus undermining military capability, morale and effect. By contrast and in the public statements by government and some senior officers, capability aspirations are running way ahead of reality.
Hand in hand with this lacuna in cohesive and realistic strategic thought, perpetuated since 1998, is very poor control of defence spending; this has an inevitable knock on effect in that ever more is being spent annually on fewer military systems resulting in ever less operational capability or capacity. With an overall budget capped at 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), this is rapidly eroding the UK’s ability to meet even the limited SDSR 2015 aims. As significant project cost over-runs and the emergence of very large expenses in ‘unforeseen support costs’ inevitably come to the fore, these large projects consume an increasing proportion of an already overheated Defence budget.
The measures deemed necessary to meet the required savings tend to target the vital and critical military capability enablers of manpower and sustainability; these are suffering relentless depredation and, as a consequence, “Readiness, Responsiveness, Regeneration and Recuperation (4Rs)” are each in turn neglected despite MOD public protestations to the contrary. The attrition of these bedrock 4Rs undermines and leads to compromising, totally, military logistics, combat effectiveness and resilience in any UK operations at home or abroad.
The Need for a Coherent Grand Strategy.
Given that the UK is viewed throughout most of the world as a global power second only to the USA, the ingredients for attaining and maintaining this status are in the mix of ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ power enablers funded and established since the end of the second world war. These are now under threat due to an incoherent strategic posture that has come about through a combination of political inertia, a lack of national self confidence and extremely poor judgement in deciding a proper balance within our OOB.
The UK cannot continue to be a ‘global power’, unless all the diplomatic, defence and security assets to ensure stature are not just supported but, in an increasingly volatile world, kept well up to date. In a domestic setting, where national finances are tight, the necessity for HMG to be clear and precise as to its international aims and ambitions is ever more critical if the budgets set are to provide the correct balance of operational capabilities to match her commitments and alliance responsibilities. Undoubtedly this will entail some radical thinking and structural change to remove the incoherences but, all will be for nothing if HMG fails, yet again, to articulate its overarching Grand Strategy. If this were to be done, the direction of travel and final destination for all government departments, not just the Foreign Office and MOD, would be much more readily achieved.
How Might This Be Done?
HMG must declare what its strategic priorities are and in order to do this must decide what place the United Kingdom (UK) will wish to maintain in world affairs – United Nations (UN), North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Five Eyes, Five Power Defence Arrangement etc – wielding what authority, influence and power?
In apparent ignorance of the responsibilities necessary to support these bodies and alliances, the UK government vehemently denies a lack of investment in Defence, oft proclaiming the UK to be the 5th/6th largest Defence budget, meeting its 2% of GDP commitment to NATO and committing to £178Bn of Defence equipment spending over the next 10 years. As a result, the truth of the current situation, in terms of operationally available defence equipment, is that its (OOB) is in almost all senses incoherent. This incoherence has come about for a variety of reasons. These might come under the headings: Prevarication in stating an operational requirement and tinkering with it, over protracted periods of time, so that costs mount and the OOB is not achieved; Complacency in not acknowledging the current and likely future threats and adjusting Defence Planning Assumptions to counter such threats; Lack of Realism in setting manpower levels and skills to match the operational requirements; Lack Of Financial Acumen And Discipline that has allowed industry to dictate, to a very large extent, an inflationary premium on most equipment acquisition.
Perhaps, a good example of this can be demonstrated in the Royal Navy’s procurement programme.
This consists of, currently, £3.2bn+ per aircraft carrier plus all the essential support costs, significant and unexpected increases in T45 through-life support costs that include correction of unexpected power supply failures, exorbitant costs of well over £1bn per unit for the construction of new frigates that will be fitted, in part, with legacy equipment transferred from the frigates they are replacing, spiralling expenditure on F35B aircraft that include unknown total costs for its vital Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) , high and avoidable (had budgetary delays and prevarication not intervened) costs for Astute and Vanguard submarine programmes. These impose such a strain on the overall defence budget that the RN and MoD must consider reducing real and current operational capability in such units as the Royal Marines, arguably the most effective and flexible military unit in the UK’s armoury, at a time when threat uncertainty is so prevalent. One can discern similar projects that offer examples such as the spiralling upgrade costs for Warrior combat vehicles and a certain lack of clarity in the acquisition and deployment of the Typhoon inventory. The other risk not being recognised, or ignored, is that if there aren’t sufficient people and logistics support to provide sustained and resilient (attrition capable) resources, the best ships, tanks and aircraft in the world become operationally useless. Equally, the demise of HMS OCEAN, coupled with rumours of severe savings in the complement of the Royal Marines, throws into considerable doubt the declared principle of having an effective expeditionary force within aspects of Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP).
The UK government has stated the MOD is undertaking a ‘mini-SDSR’ behind closed doors to balance the allegedly growing £20-£40bn+ MOD funding gap. In undertaking this task, MoD procurement, acquisition and R&D must be streamlined to provide equipment, personnel and systems capable of rapidly adapting to the broad spectrum of threats that assail the UK’s national interests and international alliance responsibilities. New priorities should be given to combating smart and rapidly adapting insurgents; duplicitous and technologically advanced State adversaries, ambiguous warfare by State actors and all manner of cyber attacks. To take but one very recent example: the S of S for Defence has spoken of the direct nuclear strike threat that North Korea will likely pose to the UK homeland in a relatively short time frame. Yet the UK has no land based anti-missile defence system and until Aster 30 Block 1 NT is procured for the RN’s Type 45 destroyers, absolutely no anti-ballistic- missile-systems at all.
Combat operations do now, or will shortly, take place in new environments and under new threat challenges in a world where the very rapid advances in technology and greater interconnection render “considered certainties” something as things of the past which, to put right, require originality of thought, a certain amount of blue sky thinking and political courage to fashion future policies across the spectrum of government. To achieve this there must be an improved and more rapid procurement approach that provides better value for money and greater adaptable capability for money to the UK taxpayer. Hard-pressed UK service personnel operating in an evermore uncertain and rapidly fluid threat environment of the 21st Century must feel valued and be given the opportunity to be innovative in their chosen specialisations. The 2015 Civitas/Bernard Jenkin report highlighted the inadequacies in MOD procurement, and DE&S’s CEO Tony Douglas has also stated that MOD procurement must evolve – the current mini-SDSR provides the opportunity to implement the necessary procurement revolution needed to balance MOD funds with MoD aspirations and an adaptable and flexible inventory to meet the sophisticated threat challenges of the next 10-15 years.
It is the DS considered view that The Ministry of Defence (MOD) should, inter alia:
a. Take a lead in developing adaptable strategic plans that define robust yet realistic operational requirements.
b. Set the operational requirements much more flexibly and intelligently in the context of the volatile threat environment.
c. Through DE&S, procure and support equipment more rapidly, more innovatively, more cost effectively and accountably than is currently the case. Sir John Parker and the Type 31e being examples of how this is done.
d. Diversify UK Defence industry to achieve a step change in getting good value for money.
e. Ensure the most effective use of manpower and equipment through “smart” recruitment and rigorous training.
DefenceSynergia September 2017
National Defence & Strategy Research Group
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