In DS we discussed the ‘Sunday Times’ leaks and alleged defence deficiency issues and several view points emerged as to technical accuracy, relevance etc. However, the one thing we all agree upon is that the net effect of the various bans on service personnel communicating even with their own Members of Parliament without MOD sanction has been to create a dam of frustration. To an extent what many recent newspaper reports may indicate is that the flood of stories coming from within the MOD domain is a sign of the dam breaking because serving personnel know that what is being stated publicly is not an accurate reflection of the reality within Defence.
However, in all the hype the principal issues seem to be getting lost. It matters less that a single Ajax AFV can be carried by one of the RAF’s 22 x A400M or 8 x C17 – assuming that all could ever be made available – than that a single British Army Armoured Infantry Battalion (according to The 2016 – 2017 Army Guide by Charles Heyman) has circa 57 x Warrior, 21 x AFV 432 and 8 x CRV(T), 729 troops, 12 x Javelin ATGW, 6 x 81mm mortars. Not to mention the additional several hundred tons of ammunition, fuel, spares, accommodation and rations to assemble, move and deploy to be a cohesive fighting unit. This would take the combined RAF Transport force (A330-200, A400M, C17 and C130J) a few days just to reach the Baltic States and form for battle. All to move a single armoured infantry unit before considering the air defence, combat support and combat service support elements that the Force Commander might rightly insist that he requires when facing Russian armoured divisions that are known by NATO to be within 60 hours of the Baltic capitals.
Whether a Type 45 destroyer ‘rattles like a bag of spanners’ is less important than that there are only 6 of them without surface to surface missiles to save cash, and, until the power system is modified, they are vulnerable to total power systems failure. What is more certain is that if the RN has to engage in kinetic warfare against a peer competitor there will be losses to air, surface and subsurface enemy action. But as things stand unless MOD addresses the core funding to provide appropriate armament and numerical resilience there is a serious danger that the RN could be neutralised quite early in any major combat engagement because there is no attrition reserve with such a small fleet. Indeed, how willing will HMG/MOD be to put the fleet in harms way if the loss of just one Type 45 destroyer reduces this fleet by 17% or more seriously, the loss of a single QEC carrier incurs a 50% loss penalty. How many lives are at risk?
This is why DS maintains that there is a systemic problem at the heart of MOD procurement and budget management that is being disguised under the mantra ‘we are spending £178bn on procurement over the next 10 years’. This is sophistry if numbers, sustainment, enablers and capability are sacrificed simply to buy fewer highly expensive weapons platforms that the armed forces cannot then afford to man, maintain or fight in their entirety.
In the case of the British Army, the utility of the forces they have is suspect if, based in UK, they are unable to train for, and then, rapidly deploy into a theatre of operations as cohesive units or formations en-mass. It is one thing to state in SDSR 2015 that the British Army will have 3 Strike Brigades, 16 AAB and/or an armoured Division of up to 50,000 troops with hundreds of fighting vehicles but what is the utility if the enablers to get them into battle and training to do so are not symbiotically funded? Furthermore, it is difficult to envisage how a 50,000 strong deployed Division could be sustained from a total Army strength of less than, in reality, 100,000 combat effective regulars and reservists?
Therefore, the issue is much broader than allegations that Ajax is too big or heavy or T45 is noisy or P8 will be vulnerable to cyber hacking or unable to refuel from RAF AAR resources. Each issue, albeit MOD should have been aware before hand, is still solvable or can be mitigated against by in-service modification, albeit at some extra cost. What cannot be ducked is the lack of numbers and the continual reduction in force multiplier and strike capability as funds are offset to buy ever fewer platforms operated by ridiculously low numbers of qualified and trained personnel.
On the equipment front DS would include MOD cancelling Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) for the RN fleet and the removal of surface to surface missiles; no organic layered UK anti-missile and stand off air defences; reneging on Project Eagle Block 40/45 AWACS communications open systems architecture upgrade; and the inability of MOD to recognise or admit the lack of utility that British Army future force 2025 order of battle (ORBAT) has when based in UK without sufficient logistic enablers. The list does not end here.
All the above being made much more problematic when personnel numbers – the easy targets for rapid savings – are reduced to the point where any critical path analysis would conclude that the point has long passed when MOD could rapidly deploy mass: now it is only in ‘penny packets’. And compounding the problem, as if this were possible, is an ever reducing ORBAT of ships, aircraft and combat vehicles because many are laid up for lack of maintenance personnel and sustainment stocks. Yet the MOD response to the media allegations on their own website on 5th Feb 2017 was somewhat predictable:
“Britain’s defence budget is the biggest in Europe and it is growing every year, we are investing £178 billion as the UK steps up globally. We are focused on maintaining an affordable programme and getting the best value for the taxpayer to deliver the cutting-edge kit our Armed Forces need to keep Britain safe.”
DS concludes that whatever the individual deficiencies identified with equipment the fundamental problem remains – HMG/MOD are so fixated on inputs (money invested) they have lost sight of the four principle outputs that must underpin all UK defence planning in a NATO context: Readiness, Responsiveness, Resilience and Regeneration. Without these four elements driving UK defence policy and spending all else is ‘shop window’ – The Emperors Clothes writ large.