Defence of the Nation – A DS Raison D’etere

“Defence of the Realm is the First Duty of Government” This is the acknowledged purpose of all United Kingdom (UK) governments. But The Government has failed to articulate a consistent “GRAND STRATEGY” – The CRUCIAL MISSING LINK – Thus putting the Defence of the realm at real risk. The overwhelming majority of the United Kingdom’s population supports a fundamental belief in democracy that allows freedom of speech for all under the rule of law. A “Grand Strategy” will reflect these values and provide the “head-mark” for realistic policies.

No Strategy – Incoherent Equipment – Too Few People

No grand strategy

In the absence of any Grand Strategy to demonstrate to the public where and how the United Kingdom (UK) will prosper, defend her interests and contribute to international affairs, it has been impossible for individual ministries to set out coherent plans which give confidence that the government is “doing the right thing” in individuals’ and collective interests. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Ministry of Defence (MOD) whose role should be to ensure the best line up of equipment and personnel to ensure that the nation is free to trade and be defended against direct threats. In these days of austerity, these roles can only be carried out through alliances and the proper integration of our necessarily limited resources with allies. The Defence Planning Assumptions (DPA) purport to define how this is to be achieved by 2020. However, these assumptions are not matched by existing and planned resources to enable us to counter the threats facing UK. These are complex and often interlinked but, for the armed forces, require a greater focus on Hard Power in support of Soft Power. Disastrously, the latter has become all too ready to supplant the former in the minds of politicians and the higher reaches of the Defence Staff.

Since the end of the “Cold War”, funding of the armed forces has been pillaged in an asymmetric way to allow public money to be spent on politically high profile departments. The advent of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan introduced an aberration in defence strategy which swung the emphasis away from an historic maritime strategy to that of a continental one which has never been either credible or successful for the United Kingdom. Strikingly, with more being spent on debt reduction each year than defence the government still affords large sums to be spent on aid to countries that support big defence and space programmes.

Incoherent equipment

So, to manage all three services within a reducing budget over some decades, the operational effectiveness of the Royal Navy (RN) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) have suffered dramatically. With 92% of energy and raw materials imported by sea, the means of ensuring free trade through sea control should be the vital element in our defence structure. That successive governments have neglected to maintain the UK’s capability in this regard can be seen in the severely reduced operational effectiveness of our ships both in their equipment fits and, most importantly, their numbers. Forsaking true “carrier strike” and allowing both surface and submarine numbers to reduce dramatically (from a safe 47, 35+12 in1998 to 26,19+7 in 2013 ) means that vital tasks are having to be removed or gapped. Presently, the Royal Navy is, by far, the most “stretched” of the three services and this means that morale and the retention of key people are suffering badly.

The net effect of Future Force 2020 (FF2020) on the RAF is to emasculate its ability to deploy fast jets overseas in the air defence, interdiction and ground support roles and to reduce FF2020 reaction times and reach other than in small unit formation. Until a new buy of Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft is made the UK will have no dedicated long range maritime sensor capability. So, from an RAF perspective FF2020 only allows government expeditionary aspirations to be achieved in very limited circumstances. With the total number of combat ready assets and personnel available to it the RAF will be hard pushed to deploy 2 dozen fast jets and supporting air transport to support and move a single army brigade with all its impedimenta overseas on a medium intensity war fighting operation.

Too few people

Which brings us to the shape and size of the Army post Afghanistan. For the British Army the defence planning assumptions are a major headache. At 82,000 (even with 30,000 reserves) they are too small to be able to maintain standing commitments and to field much more than a brigade on an enduring war fighting or counter-insurgency operation whilst meeting the Chief of the General Staff’s ‘harmony guidelines’. The army view is that a ratio of 5:1 in personnel is required to achieve one enduring deployment every 2-3 years. Conversely, the army will be too large to be safely transported, protected and sustained on non-permissive expeditionary operations by the RN and RAF in more than a few battle groups. Therefore, this constitutes a significant flaw in the DPA in that should a multi- brigade sized operation need to take place, it could only do so at the expense of an ongoing operation and the time frame to deploy would be dictated by the readiness state and force enablers.

The Army’s post Afghanistan role seems to be caught between two schools of thought: as a hard power nucleus around which to defend national security and to build a greater force in times of national emergency or as an adjunct to British Soft Power and conflict prevention mainly in response to tasking by the Department for International Development. However, expeditionary warfare is complex and resource intensive. It requires all UK forces to be ready to operate in unfamiliar environments often from bare base facilities against a foe that is on home ground. Therefore, the force protection and enablers required must not only be available at the highest readiness and in sufficient numbers and quality to ensure success at a distance from the home base but, supported and defended along the lines of communication.

This highlights the incoherence in a national security strategy that speaks of a UK world wide role without clearly defining through an articulated strategic narrative how, where, why and when this is to exercised.

DefenceSynergia was formed to research and address these deficiencies directly with our elected representatives