HCDC SDSR 2015 – DS Evidence

Strategic Defence And Security Review 2015
Defencesynergia Submission To The House Of Commons Defence  Committee


  1. DefenceSynergia (DS) has consistently taken the position that Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) needs to put in place a ‘Grand Strategic Narrative’ to provide all government departments (especially the Ministry of Defence (MoD))  with an overarching framework for cohesive policy and planning purposes. Thus far this has not happened. As a consequence, MoD, along with all other major spending departments of state, are working to Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) limitations without a clear understanding of HMG’s foreign and domestic objectives. In effect, each department is ‘doing its own thing’ with little objective regard for national interests. Foreign policy, energy, industrial, commercial, defence and security plans are not coordinated and at times are actually working in different directions – the net effect engenders political confusion, poor decision making sometimes ignoring professional advice and unnecessary, contradictory expenditure.
  1. So, for example, efforts to grow GDP are hampered without a defence/industrial strategy through: rising energy costs to meet ecologically focused targets; delays in meeting UK transport infrastructure requirements; delays in building nuclear power generation plants or the political nerve to change direction for the good of the nation rather than narrow party advantage. In the case of defence, MoD has consistently failed, possibly through no fault of its own, to articulate its need for a Grand Strategy against which it can test its manpower and equipment plans in conjunction with national interests and priorities.
  1. Despite HMG assurances to the contrary, DS is unconvinced that the National Security Strategy (NSS) is anything more than a higher level tactical doctrine which broadly defines for HM Forces the size, time frame and type of operations they must constrain themselves to without explaining why (the rationale); where (the geopolitical rationale) or what (the threats or interests they must defend). The latter requires a wholly different approach unless HMG is admitting that its scope for foreign policy intervention is to be dictated wholly by constraints of cost and by MoD’s incoherence. One clue to this is the Prime Minister’s recent démarche in which, rather than emphasise defence as the first priority of government, exercised a further threat, under SDSR 2015, to funding in support of the UK’s security. It is clear, now, that Force 2020 is rapidly becoming a rather sinister mirage – certainly a mere “wish list” thus continuing the annual cutting of the Defence budget that has occurred in the last decade in contrast to other departments of state that enjoyed substantial rises. Does anyone care?

SDSR 2010

  1. In looking to SDSR 2015 it is necessary to review SDSR 2010 briefly. Taking account of the disadvantageous financial climate in which it was formulated, DS has always understood the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) limitations and the reasons for them. The massive mismatch in capability requirements versus actual funding had to be addressed and MoD required radical reorganisation to meet both the challenge of getting its funding projections on track and keeping them there. More importantly, it has been imperative to ensure that operational requirements could be met through precise statements of requirement, professional procurement process and taut project management disciplines. If it is now accepted that the funding has been largely brought into line with reality, the jury is still out on the question of professional project management of programmes and operational capability being delivered.
  1. As an example of this, a brief glance at the F35 programme shows that after 14 years in development and production (an issue in itself) this aircraft is massively expensive, technically and operationally flawed and unlikely to enter operational service for several more years. Whilst other nations such as Australia, Canada, Holland – even elements in the USA – are questioning the efficacy of staying in the programme, MoD has no ‘plan B’ should the project fail. This, in spite of the fact that their obvious concern has been price which has escalated from $60m per aircraft ten years ago to between circa $140 to $200m today – thus forcing MoD to reduce its alleged ‘initial’ buy from 138 to an arguably operationally unrealistic figure of 48 aircraft.

SDSR 2015

  1. The general shape of HM Forces having been outlined in SDSR 2010 it is as well to consider whether this configuration will survive SDSR 2015 and beyond and, if so, is the funded order of battle (ORBAT) correct in view of the National Security Strategy (NSS) requirements? DS believes not, since the shape, size and structure cannot meet the declared intentions for a Maritime Strategic Narrative to underpin the operational requirements for expeditionary operations and the flexibility required to undertake these in a variety of theatres. A number of threats are already apparent on the Eastern NATO flank, Mediterranean littoral and in the Persian Gulf; with rather more development these may be seen to hazard fundamental energy and raw material supplies, possibly NATO security. This aside, can the equipment plan be realised without the promised annual increase of 1% in the procurement budget and/or a continued commitment to 2% of GDP for defence in the long term? Judging by the Prime Minister’s recent remarks, patently not.


  1. DS has accepted that the proposal for the regular army to reduce in size to 82,000 and restructure into Brigade sized formations called Reaction Forces (RF) and several Brigade formations designated as Augmentation Forces (AF) is correct. However, there are still serious misgivings in respect of the proposal to reconstitute the Territorial Army (TA) as a 30,000 Army Reserve (AR) that is routinely called upon to augment regular army units or formations on operations not requiring general mobilisation. Could the AR better serve national interests (and those of civilian employers) if held back – with some exceptions like medics, EOD and special forces – for general mobilisation, becoming the core of heavy armour and medium artillery forces that are rarely required. The last time British armour, Multiple Launch Rocket system (MLRS) and medium artillery were used in anger was in Iraq in 2003 – the time before that was 10 years earlier, in 1991.


  1. It is generally acknowledged, both within and without the MoD that the Royal Navy (RN) (23,000 personnel) and Royal Marines (7,000 personnel) have already lost the vital critical mass necessary to meet the current NSS and MoD Departmental Planning Assumptions (DPA). In attempting to match these assumptions, the MoD is planning for a 19 ship destroyer (DD)/frigate (FF) flotilla, a 15 ship Mine Counter Measures (MCM) force and a 7 boat SSN squadron to support a single, at sea, Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier with a severely reduced capability to operate autonomously or with allies. This configuration can no longer be termed “Carrier Strike” and the “flexible air group” often mentioned in literature is beginning to look more and more like a United States’ Marine Corps (USMC) air group (USS Wasp) in its configuration: 12 F35b, 4-6 Apache/ IN US Sea Cobra, 4 Chinook/ Osprey, 6 Merlin/S60bh and so on. The difference is that the USMC have the CVN Fighters of the USN as top cover, we have nothing. The USN has stated publicly its intention to concentrate its forces in the Pacific. The point is, we cannot now rely on the US, even if we do operate a joint force. Previously the US might have deployed two carrier battle groups in the Atlantic; there will now only be one. Additionally, the new USN carrier air groups will deploy 65 or fewer aircraft, both fixed wing and rotary, with an absolute maximum of 24 F18 E/F for top cover and in-flight refuelling. This is a major reason to keep or increase our force levels at a level from which we can operate autonomously if needs be. Apparently, the The Prince of Wales will be commissioned but, present manpower ceilings and budgetary constraints contradict that consideration. The best that can be expected is that this ship will suffer in reserve. A single landing platform dock (LPD) will be available for amphibious warfare and, once again, there is the possibility of a second in reserve. The 4 Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Point Class ships provide uncertain logistic support for expeditionary warfare operations and, we must ask, how many will be available eventually? (it seems that the Point Class have been reduced in numbers from 6 to 4 already without public scrutiny. If so, it would be helpful for the HCDC to explore the reasons for this). The number of RFA oilers and support vessels are inadequate to resupply the fleet over the full range of operational areas implied in the NSS. RFA strength will eventually be 2 Wave class oilers, 4 Tides, 3 stores/ammunition ships, plus Diligence (specialised repairs/support) and Argus (air training/forward casualty support). The Committee should note that there is no firm commitment to replace these latter two important vessels.
  1. Even before the fleet contracts to the ORBAT outlined above, the Royal Naval manpower is badly overstretched with morale suffering quite severely and significant numbers of highly skilled and experienced people of the most vital ranks and rates are leaving the service early. Whilst the MoD argue that the most up to date capability of individual ships, aircraft and submarines makes up for the derisory numbers tasked with the UK’s worldwide commitments, little or no account has been taken of the need for redundancy, maintenance and attrition as a result of battle damage and system breakdowns (already occurring).
  1. A fundamental assumption in both NSS and SDSR continues to be that most operations will be conducted with allies. An essential feature of such scenarios is the closest possible integration of intelligence and operational data. The opportunity to capitalise on these has been squandered by a refusal to invest in Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) and the short sighted decision not to give the aircraft carrier the ability to interoperate fixed wing aircraft with the most effective strike capability. Limited Airborne Early Warning (AEW), a special helicopter vehicle unique to the UK, and no carrier borne in flight refuelling exacerbate these weaknesses. The rapidly escalating costs of the chosen Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), F35B, with its emerging vulnerability and limited operational capability has so reduced the size of the intended embarked squadron (12) that aircraft numbers will be unable to carry out operations effectively whilst protecting the carrier herself. Capability can only go so far, mass and numbers are also essential.
  1. Although the deterrent is a “Political Instrument”, it would be remiss not to mention, very briefly, the Trident replacement. This force is still run by the Royal Navy in Ships Submersible Ballistic Nuclear Submarines (SSBNs) which attract a vast infrastructure of intelligence, command, control and support facilities, most of which read across to other aspects of naval responsibilities. In this regard the force is a significant asset and investment underpinning the extremely thinly spread resources elsewhere. SSBNs do not detract from the defence budget, they reinforce its potency as the most efficiently and effectively run outfit in all three services (Members of the HCDC may wish to explore this assertion). Much nonsense is spoken about the desirability of downgrading or eliminating this capability. Suffice it to say that it is independent and, by mirroring allied deterrents and establishing alternative centres of decision making and despatch, increases the diplomatic and military effectiveness of holding this ultimate weapon. Countless studies have confirmed that it is the only method that approaches a guarantee of success and at best cost.
  1. We are where we are but, it is not too late to revisit these inadequacies to ensure a better balanced fleet in the long term. Under the aegis of SDSR 2015, it is still possible to establish “Carrier Strike” within current constraints of cost and time; do it and “to hell” with the embarrassment of a second U turn. Look again at the principles of frigate and minor warship design to increase numbers very significantly through the procurement of “off the shelf” weapons systems that will reduce costs. Projected SSN numbers in commission are not credible under current procurement plans which must be revised in order to achieve and sustain their numbers to match commitments – there will be too few of these, the most effective of “war fighters”, before long. It is incredible to believe that the proposed RN bearing can fill all the required billets in the current ORBAT; a proper audit of these figures must be made, ceilings adjusted and recruiting targets revised accordingly.


  1. The Royal Air Force (RAF) post SDSR 2015 is a conundrum. In fast jet (FJ) terms only a single fleet of circa 100 FGR Typhoon will be available for land operations – and a former Chief of the Air Staff has concluded that this FJ fleet, supported from a total RAF manpower base of 33,000 – more than 50% fewer than at the time of Gulf War I – will restrict forward deployment to a maximum of 2 squadrons (between 24 and 30 aircraft) of Intelligence, Surveillance, Target-acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capable aircraft. ISTAR, Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS), Air to Air Refuelling (AAR) and Air Transport (AT) will be vested in 8 C17, 22 A400m, 14 A330-200, 3 Rivet Joint, and 7 E3D. The future of Sentinel (ASTOR) is still undecided and the effectiveness of the RAF fleet of E3D is steadily being eroded whilst MoD refuses to implement NATO block 40/45 Project Eagle upgrades to the computerised data-link communications suit. Despite a continuing DPA requirement, not least to support the UK independent nuclear deterrent, there are no published plans to back-fill the long range maritime patrol aircraft (LRMPA) gap.


  1. With the introduction of the QE class of aircraft carrier the subject of UK fixed wing air power is no longer a matter just for the RAF. Indeed, the MoD decision to buy 48 of the F35B Lightning II short take-off and rolling landing (STORAL) version must be factored into the overall picture and UK air power doctrine (the two Fast Jet policy) revisited. The RAF operational requirement (OR) is for a medium range (1500 – 1800 nm) Tornado GR4 replacement which frankly none of the F35 variants (not least the F35B) can meet. Further, the NSS calls for 12 F35B to be routinely embarked upon a carrier with the ability to surge to 36 in an emergency. With a fleet of only 48 F35B and the necessary establishment of an operational conversion and trials unit (OCTU) it is unlikely that more than 40 aircraft will ever be available for operations, of which, some 25% will be unavailable for maintenance reasons, making the DPA requirement to surge to 36 a ‘pipe dream’. Whether the RAF has a role in flying the F35B alongside the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) is academic. To meet the NSS commitment and to achieve combat ready (CR) status whilst maintaining flying currency the majority of F35B, crews and maintainers will have to be dedicated to FAA carrier operations. This leaves the RAF with a single FJ (Typhoon) and no medium range Tornado GR4 replacement. 


  1. It is clear to DS that RN/FAA helicopters (and fixed wing) must be marinised and their crews and maintenance teams inducted into maritime operations, ships damage control functions and sea culture. However, for the Army Air Corps (AAC) and RAF such land-based distinctions are far less obvious or restrictive outside the fixed wing fleets. Indeed, the RAF Support Helicopter Force (SHF) – Puma. Merlin and Chinook – form part of Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) which HQ also has 16 Air Assault Brigade (16 AAB) under command. It does not seem too radical a step to suggest that these RAF SHF assets be transferred to the AAC, leaving the RAF with command responsibility for all fixed wing other than dedicated FAA air assets.


  1. DS concludes that SDSR 2015 must first be underpinned by a national ‘Grand Strategy’ to which all departments of state and the National Security Council (NSC) are signed up. With an overarching national strategy providing the highest level of government vision, all departments of state will be able to formulate and test policy and plans – MoD would then be better positioned to size, scope and equip the armed forces to meet government foreign and domestic policy objectives rather than continue with its time honoured means of balancing individual service priorities without taking the main thrust of foreign policy into account..
  1. However, in the current financial climate realism must also play its part. Therefore, the defence budget as set must be used in the most cost effective way to achieve best ‘bang for buck’ which will require far more attention to professional programme and project management. For example: why pay in excess of £6bn for the failing F35B when perfectly suitable operational alternatives – French Rafael or US F/A-18E/F Super Hornet – are available now at a third of the cost? Why must MoD persist with its OR restrictive two Fast Jet fleet policy? Why do MoD continue to believe that the Army Reserves, despite all the commercial difficulties for employers, should be used outside their traditional general mobilisation role?
  1. Whilst DS firmly believes that the RN must be bolstered – 19 DD/FF and 7 SSN being far too few ships to meet the NSS DPA – we do acknowledge that in the current financial climate this may not be possible without compensating offsets elsewhere in the defence budget. However, when weapons platforms are few, prudent project management should dictate that the systems they carry must be first class and that force multipliers and weapons or systems upgrades must be used in lieu. Therefore, DS contends that:
  • CEC for the fleet and Project Eagle for the E3D must be funded to compensate for the lack of numbers and to keep our weapons systems up to date, relevant and able to integrate with allies.
  • In the case of the RAF medium range Tornado GR4 replacement OR – the F35 of any variant not meeting the specification – the time may be right to consider full development of Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAV) rather than conventional technology.
  • LRMPA capability must be restored.
  • UK reliance on ‘Partnering’ Allies needs to be carefully monitored since these allies are cutting their own capabilities (where is the French defence budget headed?) and without co ordination NATO gaps will appear. In the case of the USA there is a perceptible shift in strategic priority from the North Atlantic to the Pacific which makes it increasingly unlikely that the USN will be available to cover gaps in Royal Navy capability.
  1. Finally, there needs to be a recognition that the UK Armed Forces reputation for fighting excellence and leadership worldwide is under threat. Although this reputation has been hard won over the years much depends upon the people and training of the Armed Forces and their ability to succeed – failure in Iraq has surely been a wake up call. But without a Grand Strategy ‘Goal’ how can the Armed Forces calibrate their capability to ensure success? Will the nation forgive politicians with a track record of providing second class systems to undervalued personnel as is arguably the case right now?