Do you want to be the first Royal Navy female Rear-Admiral?

The British MOD released its latest diversity figures and the RAF leads in terms of proportion of females, regular or reserve. There was a great twitter chatter between myself and a certain Joan Roberston, Head of Research, Royal navy People Strategy about females serving in the Royal Navy. You can look that one up on my twitter feed but what also came up in another related discussion was the lack of a female OF-7 or Rear Admiral in the senior service.

At present, the RAF again leads with females with high ranks and appointments. They have: 1 x female Air Marshal (OF-8) as Director General Defence Service Authority, 2 x female Air-Vice Marshals (Air Secretary and Director Legal Services) and has and will have 6 x Air Commodores. The British Army has and will have: 3 x female Major-Generals (Director (Personnel), Director General Legal Services and in 2020, Deputy Commander, Field Army (Army Reserve)) and 6 x female Brigadiers. The Royal Navy has no females of flag rank and only 3 x female Commodores, occupying the positions of Assistant Chief of Staff (Personnel Capability), Assistant Chief of Staff (Medical) and Head, Healthcare (under Defence Medical Services or colloquially known as HQ Surgeon General).

There are a range of reasons, or rather rumours why the senior service fails to produce a two-star/OF-7 unlike the other two services, not even with the Royal Navy Reserve. The general Royal Nay promotion procedure is available for the public to view form the Royal Navy website under ‘Reference Library’ – ‘BRD3 Volume 1’ – ‘Part 7: Career Structures’ (I can’t link it as it is best view personally; use Google Chrome), Chapter 60, Section 4. Also very relevant is ‘Part 8 ‘ The two relevant chapters for officers (since we are dealing with the topic of a Rear-Admiral) are Chapters 65 and Chapter 66.

Chapter 66, Annex 66a, Section 2, paragraph B identifies that:

Selections for promotion to 1 and 2 Star rank are made by CNS/1SL and the Flag and Senior Officers Appointments Board (FSOAB) (see Para 6017) following the Flag and 1 Star Preliminary Selection Boards (PSB), which sit annually in May. The PSB, which is chaired by ACNS (Pers)/NavSec, consists of CNXO [Chief Naval Warfare Officer], CNEO [Chief Naval Engineering Officer], CNLO [Chief Naval Logistics Officer], CGRM and CNMO [Chief Naval Medical Officer]

Selection for Rear Admiral must also meet this zone requirement:

RADM Promotion Zone

Or basically, you need 2 years seniority as a Commodore as of 30 June and your promotion zone maximum age is around 52. The procedures promotion to a Flag rank are governed by the Flag and 1 star Preliminary Selection Board (PSB) which sits every May (Annex 66aA, para 2b), then passed to the First Sea Lord and the Flag and Senior Officers Appointments Board (FSOAB). The 1SL may consider exceptional candidates as seen in section 6018, Annex 66A, paragraphs c and d. Then the whole process of becoming is detailed from 6017 to 6020, with further relevant information in Annex 66A, paras 2e and f.

Alright, assume a female commodore makes it through the whole procedure but you don’t get the Rear Admiral sleeve race without an appointment. Below are the list of Navy Command and other 2-star commands across Joint Forces Command, MOD HQ and other TLBs:

Navy Command
ACNS Policy
COMUKMAR/RADM Surface Ships
ACNS (Aviation & Carriers)/Rear Admiral FAA
ACNS Submarines/RADM Submarines/Flag Officer Scotland & Northern Ireland
Commander Operations
ACNS Capability
ACNS Personnel/Naval Secretary
ACNS Support – currently held by a civilian although a RADM level appointment
ACNS Ships
ACNS Training/FOST
Chaplain of the Fleet – although officially Chaplains do not wear any Royal Navy Rank

Joint Forces Command
Chief of Staff JFC
ACDS (Logistics)
Chief of Staff British Forces Cyprus
Director Healthcare Delivery and Training
Director Medical Personnel & Training
Defence Medical Director
Director [of] Capability JFC
Director Joint Warfare
Director Service Operations ISS
Chief of Staff (Operations), PJHQ
Commander Standing Joint Force
Director Special Forces
Deputy Commander RCDS Senior Directing Staff x 2
Director, Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre

DE&S
Director Ships Support (or held by a civil servant)
Director Ships Acquisition (or held by a civil servant)
Note: There are many two-star post in DE&S but these are mostly are held by civil servants.

DIO
Director Strategic Asset Management

MOD HQ
ACDS (Operations)
ACDS (Capability and Force Design)
ACDS (Defence Engagement)
ACDS (Personnel Capability)/Defence Services Secretary
ACDS (Reserves and Cadets)
Director Carrier Strike – always a RADM
Defence Attache Head (USA)
Director Operations and Assurance Chief Operating Officer, Defence Safety Authority
Director MAA
Head, Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre

Note: I’m not including Submarine Delivery Agency or Defence Nuclear as I don’t believe there’s any female OF-5/Captain and definitely no female OF-6/Commodores in the submarine service as yet. I’ve also not included NATO appointments as they vary depending on changing burden sharing.

Anyway, from the above list of possible OF-7 posts, even if we narrow down to Navy Command posts, the majority of them are sea-duty/combat positions, which I wager there aren’t many female warfare officers. Certainly, the two medical commodores and the third female commodore mentioned above (I don’t want to reveal their names but it can be easily checked), none of them would making it to the combat-related posts in Navy Command or other joint positions. They definitely won’t be able to be CGRM (women have only since last year be allowed to join the Royal Marines) although one of them (no names but it is quite obvious who) might be able to make to Naval Secretary in a few years time. Another of them might be able to reach Surgeon Rear-Admiral in DMS/HQ SG, if her boss, Director Healthcare Delivery and Training is promoted to Surgeon General/Director General DMS of if the current Defence Medical Director and current acting Surgeon General is promoted to Air Marshal and a substantive appointment.

These are all still predictions. On a closer look, there are few two-star posts that will see supersessions. The first I can identify is ACNS (Submarines)/Rear Admiral Submarines and Rear Admiral (Scotland and Northern Ireland) and quite obviously, none of the three female Commodores are submariners so they don’t qualify for this post. The other post is that of Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operations) although that post, based on Colin Mackie’s predictions, has already been filled by a Royal Marine Major-General. Could the current three female Commodores be appointed to other TLB posts? Maybe not, as even the post of ACDS (Reserves and Cadets) would be held by a reservist officer. There might be a slim possibility that two of the three might be posted to DE&S or DIO appointments, but this is a very slim possibility.

I think that covers the core areas. If there should be or can be a female Rear-Admiral, she will have to meet the zone requirements, pass through PSB and FSOAB and then there must be a two-star appointment that will be vacated or need to be replaced. In summary, it isn’t a easy process to gain a female Rear-Admiral, and I would say this is the same for the other two services. Again, we currently have three, and shall I say, highly-qualified female Commodores and I view that at least two of them would get a 1 row of 14mm lace above a band of 45mm lace on their sleeve race. What also should be considered is increasing the number of female Commodores in all branches, from Warfare to Medical.

 

Not a 404: But service websites that are not updated

They say social media provides more instant up-to-date news and that this more of information better suits today’s world or at least the current, perhaps Millennial Generation. Yet, websites, a source of information that arose in the 1990s, are still a vital source. Most advanced militaries in open, democratic countries wish to get accurate information out and to connect with the civilian/political community. Yet, the UK’s three services websites lag behind in this area.

I suppose I shall start with the most incomplete and hardly updated website: The British Army or https://www.army.mod.uk/ . This service was the last the update its website to a more modern, tech-savvy kind of website in around 2017/2018. With this update, it finally released the new structure of the Army, seen under the ‘Who We Are’ Structure’ here (I won’t put up the full picture for fear of copyright violation). The picture, however, has long had some errors. First, it sorts of incorrectly suggests that the Deputy Chief of the General Staff (DCGS) is a four star when only his boss is. Ok, that is a small error. Second, it says that there’s a command called ‘Army Recruiting Training Division’ under Home Command. This training command has been, since 2018, been re-named as ‘Army Recruiting and Initial Training Command’ since 2108. It is also jointly held by the Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The Sandhurst Group, indicated in the in the chart, is actually under a Brigadier/One-Star command. You can google around and find this fact such as here or check the good Colin Mackie, http://www.gulabin.com.

Second, there are errors in the ‘Equipment’ section. Under ‘Small Arms and Support Weapons’ they still list the Light Support Weapon and Light Machine Gun, even though these weapons were phased out by at least in April 2019. They also have not listed anti-materiel rifles like the L135A1 LRPAS or ‘other weapons’, though these other weapons are used by UK Special Forces. Under ‘Vehicles’, the TpZ Fuchs, is not listed although it and the numbers of such vehicle are supposedly top secret, though easily found. There are also a couple of minor vehicles such as Pinzgauer (though now mainly used by the Royal Marines) which aren’t listed. Correctly, the ‘aircraft’ sub-section does not list fixed-wing aircraft like the Islander and Defender; the squadron they are under are transferred to RAF command and control.

The biggest incomplete section that has not been updated for at least a year is the ‘Who we are’ section. Under ‘Our people’, there is only sections of ‘ranks’ which is so commonly known, and ‘a soldier’s standards’. There is absolutely, as of 16 June 2019, no biographies of senior officers, not even of the CGS, who has been in position for just over a year. This in sharp contrast to the Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Air Force (RAF) websites. The RN has biographies of its top three senior leaders–First Sea Lord, Second Sea Lord and Fleet Commander. The RAF goes even further, listing all, or maybe almost all the senior commanders, including members of the Air Board. The British Army’s website is most likely still under development, but the lack of any simple information like senior commanders is explicitly damaging in terms of image. How long does it take to take a picture of top leaders and write their biographies?

Other missing or incomplete information rest in the ‘Corps, Regiments and Units’ section. Initially, only units from the Infantry and Royal Armour Corps were linked when the website was updated to its more modern look, and not all of them were listed. It took ages before various combat units, combat service support and other units were added. It also took ages before they created another section called ‘Formations and Divisions’ but initially erroneously added sub-units like the 77th Brigade there. Many battalions and units under ‘Corps, Regiments and Units’ are still without pages/websites. These are:

Army Air Corps: One of the last sections to be added since website was re-designed. No sub-units added.

Royal Artillery: It took them weeks before 5 RA, 7 RHA, and other regiments were added. 106 RA is still missing. 32 RA still listed but supposedly will go in 2021. Supposedly.

Royal Signals: As with AAC, one of the last corps added and no-sub units added at all.

Corps of Royal Engineers: Very incomplete, missing the new 28 RE, 32 RE, 35 (EOD) RE, reserve units like 71, 75, 101 (EOD) RE and Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia).

Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers: Listed only 6 Close Support Battalion REME recently. The rest from 1 to 7 Aviation Support and the reserve battalions, all missing.

Royal Logistic Corps: All complete and was the fast to be completed. Some units like training units may still be missing though.

Intelligence Corps: 1 Military Intelligence Battalion is missing or will it disband under Army 2020 Refine?

Infantry: Regiments are fully listed but not individual battalions. Exceptions are Royal Regiment of Scotland–just a general list, The Rifles and the Yorkshire Regiment. Even the Royal Gurkha Rifles don’t have separate pages for their two battalions, but that’s a minor squabble.

Adjutant General’s Corps: All complete and completed in a short time. The Royal Military Police page however gives you information not many know of–that the 1st Military Brigade is under the operational control of 3rd UK Division. More about this below.

Army Medical Services: All complete, even including unit(s) that will disband under Army 2020 Refine.

All the other regiments/corps/units are minor units. In summary, there is a whole list of uncompleted units, and to a normal, non-military observer, he/she would believe the British Army has shrunk. Overall, listing 230 units (as of 15/6/2019) doesn’t give a very positive image to the wider public.

Under Formations, Divisions and Brigades: The information again took long to complete and there was a misleading idea that HQ 1st Artillery Brigade was under Force Troops Command, as it was stated in the original Army 2020 Plan. Then, the website shifted it under 3rd UK Division, as your truly noted. Was there a change of operational command? Yes, but no official announcement was made. I only found proof of this via a FOIA and made the British Army webmaster change the wording. The biographies under Home Command also may need updating.

Another area I’m critical about is the news section. The British Army. along with the RAF (as I’ll detail below), hardly post news events, as compared to the senior service. British army news articles come like once every few days, sometimes one or two articles after a week or worse, a fortnight. The best source of news then comes from not even the monthly Soldier Magazine (which isn’t always updated immediately), but from individual corps or regimental websites or charities or association. These are sadly, harder to fine.

Enough rating about the Army. The senior and junior websites are better in terms of style but still lack in accurate content. In the Royal Navy, under ‘Equipment’ and under ‘Ships’ they still list Landing Platform Helicopter although HMS Ocean has been decommissioned and sold to Brazil. Under ‘Submarines’, the style for the ‘Astute Class’ isn’t presented in the main page; you have to scroll down to find it. Ok, that’s a very minor squabble. Under “Commando’ and ‘Troop’ weapons, they still the L110A2 5.56MM LMG although as with the British Army, this weapon has been phased out of service. They also don’t list all the vehicles used by the Royal Marines, just the Viking All-Terrain Armoured Vehicle. More significantly, in recent weeks, the webmasters have removed the profiles of commanding officers of ships, submarines, FAA squadrons, bases you name it. They also temporarily removed the senior 2* posts–COMUKMARFOR, RADM FAA, CGRM and Commander, RFA–and only just replaced them. The search function in the website, as well as the British Army’s, also isn’t very user friendly.

Other than this, the Royal Navy website is top notch. As stated, it is the leading service website that updates its news section like around at least three or up to five articles a day or nearly more than ten articles across the working week. The style of all sections of the website is appealing to users of generations. Perhaps they could, as with the British Army, merge the news and Navy News much closer and get the former to publish the monthly edition online much earlier.

The RAF’s website, with a dark blue (I doubt it is trolling the Royal Navy) background, has quite up to date information. Previously, the old, 1990s-style RAF website had more detailed information on RAF weapons from guns to bombs to missiles. In this website, that information is mostly removed but in place, the images of all, or almost all RAF aircraft are of higher quality and some have individual 3D images or videos. Squadrons and groups are neatly detailed there are biographies of the commanding officers, and as noted, of the senior officers who mostly make up the Air Force board. What is lacking is updates–the current or recently new officers like Air Marshal Gerry Mayhew and Air-Vice Marshal Ian Gale did not have their biographies published until very recently. Under RAF Police and Regiment, the information about 26 RAF Regiment was only just removed, giving an incorrect impression that there’s two RAF Regiment still conducting CBRN ops.

There are more minor mistakes but the point is very clear: UK Armed Forces just don’t have up-to-date websites. Don’t get me started on the MOD’s gov.uk site; that is just as terrible. But is this worthy criticism or just ranting? For sure, many say website work isn’t a core function for officers, ORs, or civil servants. The whole of defence and the armed forces have better issues to worry about but having incomplete or worse, stagnant websites adversely affects the whole force. Having up-to-date websites with accurate contents has several benefits:

1) As I harp on above, it helps inform the public about the armed services. Not everyone is social media-savvy and social media has more often than not, created disinformation or as Donald Trump has supported, created fake news. By having properly updated websites, any of the three services could rightly counter, yes, we are conducting ABC, no, we have unit XYZ, it has not disbanded, and so on. Those without social media, and even those who don’t go to the library (!!!) can look up the website and check what’s happening to this regiment or what is being procured. This would be more for veterans of past decades. Say you served in the Royal Engineers. Hey, why isn’t there a page on 32 RE? Did they disband the unit under Army 2020/Army 2020 Refine? I’m angry! This response would not be so if there was a unit webpage/website. Or say you are interested in joining up, especially to a regiment/corps you father/grandfather was part of. Would you like it if you check and not find the webpage/website on army.mod.uk?

2) The image of a proper updated website brings value, or even soft power to the service and the UK as a whole. Allies may not be always so privy to the any of three services and may often check their websites rather than tweet or Facebook them. What sort of image would it bring if an ally of the UK finds an Army website lack unit information or new updates? Or cannot find the biography or a senior Royal Navy officer? In sharp contrast, the US has quite informative and quickly updated military sites for its four main armed services, the DOD and other defense-related agencies. Alright, it’s the world’s superpower and each service has a regiment-size media and webpage team. The British aren’t that far behind; for the army, there’s a Major-General holding the appointment of Director Engagement and Communications (D E&C) and a Colonel as Assistant Head, Army Media & Communications. Surely, they have a team working on webpage development. What’s taking them so long from fixing the British Army’s website.

3) The image it provides adversaries. Ok, perhaps the army’s incomplete website, the minor missing content in the Royal Navy and RAF’s website is part of a larger disinformation campaign against UK adversaries such as Russia, China, Daesh, you name it. I do not buy this at all. Even at the height of Op HERRICK, the government still published which units would deploy for that operation and publicise new equipment like Mastiff and Foxhound vehicles. A complete, up-to-date website would add more to the soft power element, informing or perhaps scaring the enemy of the lethality the British Armed Forces. Alright, there’s nothing scary really since most outsiders know the army isn’t even close to the 82,000 figure, the Royal Navy is still small in terms of surface warships and the RAF isn’t that huge in size or firepower either. But websites that don’t contain the simple information of units or weapons further degrade the whole picture.

It’s up to the three services if they want fix up their websites or plod on with not even a half full glass.

The Shangri-la Dialogue and not a UK Defence Journalist in sight!

Asia’s annual defence symposium, the IISS (International Institute for Strategic Studies) Shangri-La Dialogue, will be on this weekend, 31 May to 2 June 2019. Every bigshot, from military to analysts to media personnel will be there. Except, guess what, the British journalists who  label themselves as ‘defence journalists’.

I started off this query on twitter with this tweet:

I guessed none of those tagged -I tagged major journalists from major news outlets like the Times, Sky News, BBC – bothered to answer but a great Malaysian defence journalist/analyst did. His reply:

and further replied

So there you have it: These major new companies do not see the value of sending their defence journalist to a conference which has extremely debated Asia-Pacific (or now Indo-Pacific) and even global defence issues. These journalists just happily report on the UK defence woes with respect to the Euro-Atlantic area or NATO, the Middle East, perhaps Africa, or across to the American continent. The Daily Telegraph is one of the exceptions (ore maybe the only one?), sending its China-based correspondent instead to #SLD19 (the hash tag for the conference).

Why it is expensive to travel to Singapore and book a hotel there. But wait, these aren’t your gap year or university undergraduate students travelling to see the culture of the region. They aren’t you low-paid workers suffering due to Brexit or pre-Brexit woes. These are, as the love to taunt on their twitter and mainstream media profiles, ‘defence journalists’. William Chong, IISS Asia’s Senior Fellow gave this argument:

and so did Dzirhan:

It may seem ironic since I tweeted it, but social media isn’t the main tool to broadcast a defence conference that has critically aided countries, think tanks and even journalists! for more than decade. In the current era of Global Britain, are these defence journalists presenting a real outward-looking UK or a Great Britain ingoring the ‘Far East’ (colonial term) as they did in the 1940s?

Side note: I also include wannabe young journalists who care more about tweeting ‘On this Day’ stuff on the Falklands, which when not wrong, is rather boring–and don’t you have undergraduate studies work to do?

Further note: There was a BBC journalist who is a “a regular guest on BBC1’s Question Time, Radio 4’s Any Questions, and Sky News” (no prizes in guessing who) who was at SLD16/17 (can’t recall which). She asked as question to then CDS ACM Stuart Peach. Bravo BBC.

USMC F-35Bs on the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers: The benefits and challenges

This week, there was sudden ‘breaking news’ that USMC F-35Bs will be deployed on HMS Queen Elizabeth when the aircraft carrier deploys on its inaugural deployment in 2021. Experts, analysts and journalists (or so they title themselves) quickly praise or criticise this news.

But wait, don’t you all have any memories? This is not new news; rather it was announced at least 3 years ago. During a press conference with then Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon and US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the former remarked, ” I can welcome the commitment of the United States to deploying F-35s on the first operational deployment of Queen Elizabeth — the HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2021.” This was even previous mentioned by defence-savy BBC journalist Mark Urban back in 2014. Other news articles, releases or documents that mention the USMC F-35Bs on HMS Queen Elizabeth include:

Defensenews article citing former First Sea Lord George Zambellas saying US will aid British F-35s entryr into operations

A Royal Navy news release in 2014 saying “The aim is for US aircraft to be able to operate from UK aircraft carriers and vice versa.” Also see similar news here.

Aviationweek news article in 2015 stating exactly the same news. You can find a related article here.

Also reported on USNI news, see also this article which says “A Marine F-35B squadron will join the Royal Navy strike group on its first operational deployment in 2021 as part of the air group.”

It’s also mentioned on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s issus news article here

Also found on UK parliamentary questions

as well as the anti-F35 website, War is Boring

So, the Military.com news isn’t really new news.

Anyway, like it, hate it, or love it, the Yanks are coming to fly off a British-made aircraft carrier. Of course, as previously pointed on on twitter and in an academic paper, this is not a new format of military operations. The good blogger Sir Humphrey also notes that during WWII, the usage of HMS Victorious, aka USS Robin, is another example or US-UK joint naval partnership. I argue that, it is not exactly, since firstly, the request to use a Royal Navy carrier was due to circumstances, while in this case, US usage of either HMS Queen Elizabeth or HMS Prince of Wales was well planned in advance. Second, while HMS victorious was rapidly altered to suit USN carrier operations, both QECs already were planned–ingoring the STOVL to CTOL and back debacle–from the start to be joint operable with USMC F-35Bs, or even other allied F-35Bs, more about that later.

OK, we can debate the history of allied operations from a single deck or cross-decking, but now that we are definitely certain HMS Queen Elizabeth’s 2021 deployment will include USMC F-35Bs, what are the benefits and challenges for the USMC or US forces in general?

Benefits:

1) Flight deck size, elevator: One, the USMC will enjoy a much larger flight deck. As far as I can gather, the QECs have a flight deck size of around 4.5 acres while the America-class, which the USMC F-35Bs wil use, has only 2 acres of flight deck. The QECs also quite possibly have a larger hangar–I may be wrong, and its elevators can lift 2 F-35Bs each while an America-class can lift only one–again I may be wrong. The typical deployment of USMC aircraft on an America-class LHA will be around 6, maximum 10, excluding some helicopters. With the QECs large size, it can deploy a full squadron–either of 10 of 16 planes. Naturally, the more the merrier. Also, by deploying their F-35Bs on board the QEC, this would free up space on their America-class for more helicopters, making them pure amphibious assault ships.

2) Ski-jump: I suppose this is the most important benefit the USMC will gain and utilise. The British love the skim-jump and since they are set for STOVL operations in the long-term, ie, using the F-35B, the have included the ski-jump to ensure the STOVL aircraft can safely fly off the aircraft carrier–since it doesn’t have catapults and more crucially, able to launch with a heavier payload. USN Wasp and America-class LHDs and LHAs have never included a ski-jump in their design, so the USMC F-35Bs will enjoy flying off the QECs confidently and with a heavier payload. This is especially since their weaponry, particularly their GBU-32 (1,013 pounds) is generally heavier than the RAF/FAA Paveway IV (550 pounds). The USMC may even learn how to land using Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL), the British-specific method of landing a STOVL aircraft with a heavy payload.

3) Organic AEW or ASAC, ASW: The USMC Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) / Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) Air component / Marine Air-Ground Task Force(MAGTF) does not, as yet, have an organic aerial early warning (AEW) aircraft/helicopter while the RN tailored task group will have the Merlin Mk2 mounted with the modified Thales Searchwater 2000 AEW radar . This AEW or ASAC system might not exactly be fully operational by the 2021 deployment, but it will quite definitely be part of any UK carrier-based strike group in the future. The USMC might be procuring a better AEW UAV, but that will take time to develop, so while their are flying of either QEC carrier, they will have the safe knowledge that Royal Navy FAA AEW/ASAC helicopters will be aiding them.

The USMC aviation team also does not have organic ASW helicopters, although their USN counterparts might deploy MH-60R helicopters off their baby aircraft carriers. In contrast, the RN FAA has the Merlin Mk2, which has a primary ASW role. Furthermore, the QEC task group will most definitely be accompanied by a RN Type 23 or in future, Type 26 ASW frigate. So the USMC pilots will safely know that while on board either QEC carrier, they will be surrounded with perfect ASW assets, unlike in their ARG/MEU, which typically is just one LHA, one LPD and one LSD, no ASW assets.

4) Logistics: In relation to the first argument, the USMC themselves the utility of the QEC carriers due to their larger size. Various USMC Aviation plans, such as the 2015, 2016 (can’t find the link but a hard copy says so) and 2017 versions explicitly indicate that the QECs, as well as the Italian aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi will be used as for not just allied/joint operations but forward basing for logistics operations. The USMC calls it ‘Distributed Aviation Operations’ or DAO.

5) AAW: Again, a basic USN-USMC ARG set of ships does not include an air defence ship. The QEC carriers, on the other hand, will always, and I say this with certainty, be accompanied with a Type 45 destroyer or maybe two, or even allied AAW ship(s). I know their are many armchair admirals on and offline criticising the Type 45s for lack of sufficient numerical VLS cells, but I say it is a very effective and lethal AAW destroyer. So given that the US ARG doesn’t include such a ship as yet, USMC F-35B aviators will have an excellent opportunity working with RN Type 45s to form AAW operations for the task group.

These are just some of the benefits that the USMC will gain while operating from either QEC carrier. Of course, the RAF and FAA will likewise benefit from a USMC squadron in terms of mass–more aircraft for again air defence, training and strike operations. They will benefit from learning USMC logistics and repairs procedures, especially since the USMC is the leading force in terms of operating the F-35B. Now for the challenges

1) Messing: I suppose this is minor challenge or not even a problem. But generally, Americans are larger in weight than the British. The British have a tight Daily Messing Rate for their sailors which although keeps them active and energetic, is limited in terms of budget. I can’t exactly find the USN or USMC equivalent to the DMR, but I suspect US sailors and marines get fed of a slightly higher budget. The amount of calories may not differ, but the Royal Navy lifestyle may take time to adjust to.

2) Terminology: Yes, it is a Special Relationship, yes they are NATO partners, but the terminology used, especially since RAF Air Command is the lead for the joint RAF/FAA F-35Bs, may be different. This again may not be a major hurdle or challenge and quite definitely will be worked out pre-deployment.

3) Logistics: Both countries might be using the same stealth fighter, but each unit and country won’t exactly be using the set of weapons. The UK at present will arm their F-35Bs will ASRAAM, AIM-120 for air-defence/air superiority roles, and Paveway IV LGBs for strike missions. The USMC on the other hand, will AIM-120 and quite definitely AIM-9, and for striking, GBU-32 JDAM and GBU-12 LGB or Paveway II, the former which has never been used by the UK. In future, the UK F-35Bs will be armed with Meteor and SPEAR 3 while the USMC aircraft will have Small Diameter Bombs. Commander (Logistics), along with Commander (Weapons Engineering) on board the QEC carrier would then be challenged to ensure sufficient stocks of both UK and US weapons for each countries aircraft. In 2021, it is doubtful that the new Future Support Ships (FSS) will be operational ready for the QEC task group will have to depend on United States Navy’s Military Sealift Command ammunition ships, quite definitely the Lewis and Clark-class ships, adding to their challenge. There will quite undoubtedly USN, US MSC and USMC on board to assist with logistics distribution and USN or USMC aviation ordnance man but this might be a challenge to overcome.

4) Command and control and rules of engagement: Again, whilst both countries have worked extremely closely before, are NATO allies and have a Special Relationship, one of the biggest challenges and perhaps problems will be the C2C and ROE. Sir Humphrey presents a simple friendly scenario of how both countries will work together using the QEC, that is, a NEO. I present a more complex scenario: Say for example the UK just wants to use the QEC task group for conventional deterrence against country A while the US dislikes country A’s WMD development so much it orders its F-35Bs on board the QEC to attack country A’s facilities. Will the UK, not wishing to start a military conflict, agree? One must take a step back to the Pristina Airport incident, where even well under tight allied NATO command, then Lieutenant General Mike Jackson told his superior US General Wesley Clark, “”I’m not going to start the Third World War for you.” What if, during the course of the 2021 deployment, there is a similar disagreement? Will both parties agree to how the QEC will operate? Or take a less confrontational scenario: Say the British only wish for F-35Bs to assist with a NEO that evacuates British citizens but the US wishes to use those F-35Bs to enforce a US-led by UK-abstained, UNSC-voted No-fly zone. Would it then be USMC aircraft launching to enforce a NFZ and British aircraft just for self-defence?

There are other challenges but of course, the higher powers will work it out, although there may be more Pristina airport like disagreements. There are also other questions such as:

1) How many F-35Bs will the USMC VMFA squadron have 10, or 16? Either number is the proposed size of any USMC VMFA F-35B squadron. If it is 10, this will mean that there will be 22 (12 (UK) + 10 (US) fixed-wing aircraft on board. If it is 16, then there will be 28 (12+16). The larger the number, the less number of Merlin Mk2 (ASW and AEW/ASAC) and Merlin Mk4 (Join Personnel Recovery and Commando air assault).

2) From which USMC Air Station will the squadron deploy from? There are no USMC bases in the UK on permanently stationed in the NATO/European continent so they will most likely deploy from either USMC Air Station Cherry Point or USMC Air Station Beaufort–these are US East Coast USMC Air Stations; it is highly unlikely the squadron will come from those stationed on the West Coast in 2021. Which ever Air Station they come from, it still might affect the direction HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail to for its first operational deployment.

3) Following up from deployment and the the challenge of differing ROE and C2C, will the inaugural operation actually be towards the the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Pacific region as former Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson announced? Or will it be sail directly to the Persian Gulf where Donald Trump and John Bolton and fanning the flames of war towards Iran?

There are so many questions. For now, it is welcoming to have friendly F-35Bs on board.

Welcome back 28 Engineer Regiment and British Army control of CBRN

1 April 2019 marks, no, not April Fools Day, but the re-formation of 28 Engineer Regiment (RE) which disbanded back in 2014. This reformation re-creates a Counter-Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment for the British Armed Forces, totally under British Army control. The unit used to command wide-wet river crossing squadrons in British Forces Germany.

History of CBRN capability in the British Armed Forces

The UK had some foresight in creating a unit to counter or at least detect CBRN agents. This was the result 1998 Strategic Defence Review, which foresaw such a need (see paragraph 35). The outcome was the Joint CBRN Regiment, which consisted of the then- 1st Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) and as well as reserve elements from 2623 Squadron RAuxAF Regiment and the Royal Yeomanry. In 2010, with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government came the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which saw military unit cuts due to a inaccurate prediction of a peace dividend after the Afghanistan campaign. Those cuts saw the removal of the Joint CBRN Regiment and the Fuchs vehicles,  with all 11 of them slated for disposal, see also this answer in 2011. The 1st RTR would merge with its sister, the 2nd RTR, to form up a whole Challenger 2 Regiment. After some consideration, CBRN capability was retained at a smaller capability, from joint to purely under the RAF Regiment’s control. 27 Squadron RAF Regiment would join with 26 Squadron RAF Regiment (see this and this), and 2623 RAuxAF to maintain CBRN capability, with the Fuchs vehicles most definitely shelved.

Sniff, sniff. Then came the Arab Spring and then Syrian Civil War which saw Assad using chemical weapons on his own people and maybe the ISIS group. MPs questioned why the UK removed its essential CBRN capability in a debate. A couple years later, Falcon Squadron from the RTR was re-formed along side the other squadrons of the merged RTR. The squadron’s role was officially known as a ‘CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance Squadron’ and you can read all about it in this article. The Fuchs vehicles were recommissioned or regenerated at a price of £7,115,941 in 2015, with a simulator already ordered in 2014. The RTR official Facebook page later showed pictures of the vehicles in action, including a Husky and a unidentifiable vehicle – check out this picture, this picture and this one.

Ok, so Fuchs had returned and the RTR was proud of it. The RTR Association website used to have newsletters – its now updated and they are sadly gone – and one of them described the structure of Falcon Squadron:

CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance (AS&R) Capability
Falcon Squadron RTR provide defence’s CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance capability. Manned by the RTR they are under the command of 22 Engr Regt in Force Troops
Command. Falcon Squadron is equipped with two troops of four German Fuchs TPz vehicles. Each Fuchs is capable of chemical and radiological hazard detection and is crewed by four CBRN Specialists who are able to operate in CBRN hazard areas due to the vehicles

Ok, so the British Army restored its CBRN capability, and it would fall under 22 Engineer Regiment. Nevertheless, this was only a squadron or company-sized unit and the RAF regiment still held the bulk of CBRN capability. Fast forward to SDSR 2015, and if you look closely at the Joint Force 2025 graphics, you would realise the future RAF Regiment size would be slightly smaller. Yours truly guessed rightly and confirmed by a FOIA that the Army would fully take on the responsibility of CBRN. This was further confirmed in the Royal Engineers Association Management Committee minutes: 1) 23 February 2018 minutes stated the creation of “a Counter Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Regiment” by 2019 under the name and 2) this was also confirmed in the 29 January 2019 minutes.

Organisation and shape of things to come

Welcome back 28 RE and British Army Counter-CBRN! The first question that came to ‘wannabe military experts’ or ORBAT-crazy people (not me) was: What is the structure of this new regiment? Thankfully and quite willingly, the answer was revealed in this tweet:

64 HQ & Sp Squadron (C-CBRN)
42 Field Squadron (C-CBRN)
FALCON Squadron (C-CBRN)
77 Field Squadron (C-CBRN).

64 and 42 are former squadrons from the former 28 RE, Falcon we know where it’s from — will it get a number under its new parent regiment? 77 Squadron was from 35 RE which was a close support engineer regiment but under Army 2020 Refine, that regiment is now an Explosive Ordnance and Search (EOD&S) regiment. Beyond 28 RE, the Defence CBRN Centre at Winterbourne Gunner has shifted command from the RAF Regiment to the Royal School of Military Engineering (RSME) Group, further cementing the Army’s control of CBRN away from the RAF — you can see further tweets about the transfer here and here

This RAF to British Army control of Counter-CBRN and ‘new’ formation didn’t occur peacefully as Russia, mostly definitely through President Putin, released Novichok in Salisbury, nearly killing former GRU Colonel Sergei Skirpal and his daughter Yuulia and accidentally killing Dawn Sturgess and affecting Charlie Rowley. Falcon Squadron and the respective RAF regiments were in fact used in the cleaning up of Salisbury. So the British Armed Forces rightly restored its Counter-CBRN capability, but its adversaries are certainly moving at a faster pace.

So what next for 28 Engineer Regiment? For one, with the strained personnel shortfall in British Army recruitment, retention and training, the first challenge is whether there is really enough qualified – Counter-CBRN work is ‘rocket science’ – personnel to fully man each squadron as stated above. 28 RE, now sitting under 12 Force Support Engineer Group will not just have to deal with future CBRN attacks on British soil but help detect and clear paths for the Army’s single ‘warfighting’ division in any operation. The second most pressing challenge is which vehicle will replace the Fuchs vehicles, which are old and, via a FOIA, will likely go out of service (OSD) in 2019/2020. Oh yes, they did issue a Prior Information Notice in March 2019 to to upgrade 10 Fuchs and 1 simulator hoping to extend the OSD to 2024 or even 2027. A much newer vehicle would be rather welcoming. The Army is in the process of acquiring Ajax, Boxer and much later, the MRV-P Group 1 and Group 2 vehicles. MRV-P Group 1, which sadly or thankfully, will be the US-made Oshkosh L-ATV might be a possible choice, or even Boxer, in the same fashion as the US M1135 Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, Reconnaissance [Stryker] Vehicle. Or even something else. Personally, the personnel issue will be the most challenging part first. This discussion would require another post.

Anyway, welcome back 28 Engineer Regiment.

Let’s have a non-warfare First Sea Lord! Let’s have a non-fighter pilot CAS! Let’s…

So before Christmas, Gavin Williamson chose the next batch of four-star military leaders. This is certainly not unusual given that the current four leaders are nearly 60 years of age and all have been in post for at least two years. The new set of leaders chosen are certainly not chosen through a ‘game of thrones’ as some rumour-spread ‘journalist’ claims. Yet, as before, there are social media ‘groans’ over the choices.

The most prominent groan I can find is that the future Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), soon-to-be Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, is yet another pilot. Groan, yes, except for former Air Chief Marshal Andrew Pulford, the list of RAF CAS since end of the Cold War have been fighter/ground-attack pilots. Why can’t they choose a non-(fighter) pilot?

The very clear reason why, and such commentators should look before whining, is that they can’t. CAS are either chosen from a batch of Air Marshals or current Air Chief Marshals. The excellent historian Colin Mackie provides a list of all RAF officers from Air Commodore above. There aren’t any four-stars to choose from so let’s skip down to Air Marshals. AM Stacey is listed to be retired. Mackie doesn’t list a source but a simple search shows that Stacey was previously Chief of Staff, NATO Allied Command Transformation. He was a ground-based RAF officer, ok, that’s not a pilot, but he’s 59 or  so, thus he’s not a choice for promotion. AM Philip Osborn was Chief Defence Intelligence and is also likely to retire. He was a fighter pilot. AM Julian Young is Chief Materiel (Air), not a usual position for moving up to CAS. In any case again he’s old even though wasn’t a fast-attack pilot officer. AM Stuart Evans could have been a a choice for CAS since he’s young. But his biography shows he was also a fast-attack pilot. AM Stuart Atha would have been a great choice for CAS. Unfortunately, he’s as old as the current CAS, ACM Stephen Hillier, and well, also a fast-attack officer.

So there’s just no basis for groaning that the future CAS is still a pilot officer (no offence to the academic who tweeted it). The list of Air Marshals for CAS is short and all the probable choices have been jet pilots. Yes, perhaps they could have chosen an Air-Chief Marshal. But this is the UK, not the US where officers can be nominated to four-star from a non-three-star rank. In any case, I don’t believe US service chiefs (as in the heads of the US Navy, US Army, US Air Force, US Marine Corps) can be chosen from two-star officers.

There was also a very strong argument for a non-warfare officer to be First Sea Lord. Yet the next First Sea Lord, soon-to-be full Admiral Tony Radakin had an extensive career commanding ships. Again, if you look at Mackie’s list of Vice Admirals it is even shorter and all the possible candidates: VADM Timothy Fraser, VADM Ben Key, VADM Paul Bennett and of course, VADM Tony Radakin served as officers on board ships and commanded ships. Fraser Key and Radakin are the only real possible choices and I guess Key was rejected for some reason or just didn’t want the responsibility of handling the senior service’s budget. Fraser having joint experience and being a high-flyer, got the second-highest command.

Nevertheless, I’m not blatantly criticising alternative choices for service chiefs; in fact I agree that officers from all forms of services should be given the chance to be the head of their service. Yet, one should not intentionally favour or pick them just because they are a minor ethnicity, a female or a non-combat service officer. The whole issue of equal opportunity should be more about looking at capability. The Daily Telegraph news article stated that the new four-star officers were chosen as they would aid improving innovation in the British Armed Forces and the MOD and rightly so. (Contrast it with the Sky News article which suggest there is a fight between the senior service and the RAF–this is a pure example of fake news.) Capability as factor will rightly choose the person who can lead the forces, and that certainly isn’t a ‘showdown over a variants of the F-35’ or a ‘Game of Thrones’. The focus of capability of course seems to disturb proponents or activists for minorities or females. Yet, as I mentioned above, pandering towards one side isn’t beneficial.

Will we get a non-fighter pilot as CAS or a non-warship captain as First Sea Lord in the future? Or even a female? Well Mackie’s almost correct lists of senior officers provides you with the possible choices. In any case, the appointment of these four officers opens up their own positions, namely, Chief of Joint Operations, Second Sea Lord, Deputy Commander Capability and Air Member for Personnel and Capability and Commander Field Army. These three-star positions, and other may again lead the path to top commands. It is any one’s game, so long as they have the experience in joint commands and are capable.

Why the UK must have defence engagement with that region: What sort of defence engagement?

What sort of involvement?

We do get suggestions what exactly the UK should deploy to the Asia-Pacific, but more often than not, they are just voices for grandstanding. Some are just list of ideals like this from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) a whole list of what should be UK activities in the Asia-Pacific, now and post-Brexit. What really should be the UK’s plausible response to ensure stable security in the Asia-Pacific?

The UK military and political system actually is responding without such idealistic delusions of grandeur. First, the UK should continue or even try to slowly enlarge its permanent and temporary military presence in the region. British military deployments in Southeast Asia are already significant, despite what the analyst at HJS or other think tanks claim. The British Defence Singapore Support Unit (BDSSU), aka Naval Party 1022, is extremely well-valued by not just FPDA nations but other allied and nation-states in the region. It may not be as well-broadcast in social media or the mainstream media, but it continues to provide around 1200m3 of fuel of fuel fuel to nearly warships and ships almost every two years (Source: FOIA). There’s also staff officers assigned to Singapore’s Information Fusion Centre (IFC) and more staff assigned to the Integrated Air Defence System at RMAF Butterworth as part of the FPDA. Further afield, there’s the Gurkha regiment in Brunei and as you’ve seen some ship and aircraft deployments. All these are not symbolic gestures or ‘spreading the defence jam thin’ but maintaining a strategic role and some degree of deterrence.

Can they be improved or increased? Not exactly to extremely level which the HJS analyst describes in a short period. The UK cannot also base large-scale military forces there without increasing military tensions. It, however, should maintain its personnel in FPDA and Asia-Pacific countries and send military deployments more regularly. I don’t mean a five year-gap between HMS Daring’s deployment and HMS Sutherland’s deployment, but more regular Royal Navy ship and submarine visits, British Army unit (not just personnel deployments) and RAF squadron-level deployments to FPDA exercises and with other Asia-Pacific partners. The UK simply sends personnel for FPDA exercises. It should instead send physical ships (not ship), at least platoon-sized forces and more RAF flights
to FPDA exercises to strongly affirm its role in this pact. It was already announced that the UK would deploy HMS Queen Elizabeth and its escorts. That deployment requires much financial cost and willpower and this ultimate aim should be slowly built up with more regular deployments to maintain the momentum.

Second, the UK has long-standing defence engagements with the region which can be and should be easily altered to a larger degree. Defence engagement here means not just military deployments but through personal engagement. Sir H has given an overview, albeit outdated of the roles of British Defence Attaches play in the region and globally. To update his overview, the UK has OF-6-level defence attaches in Australia, China, South Korea and non-resident accreditation (NRA) with North Korea (based in China) while the UK attache in Japan is of OF-5. Closer to Southeast Asia, British defence attaches are of OF-5 ranks in Brunei, Burma/Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines (NRA in Brunei), Thailand and Vietnam. Finally the defence attaches in Singapore and New Zealand are at OF-4 rank.

Singapore’s defence attache used to be at OF-5 rank until 2014 (see p.21) and this ‘reduction’ in my view is regrettable. This was made up as the 2015 SDSR promised the creation of a British Defence Staff (Asia Pacific) which materialised in 2016. The head of this British Defence Staff it of OF-5 rank assistant by a OF-4. On top of the these senior ranks, there is at least one British officer at the Information Fusion Centre in Changi, Singapore and more MOD civilians to sustain the BDSSU and defence attaches in the region. Defence attaches don’t just attend military events and talk to their host nation counterparts; they engage with them to deep bilateral relations and facilitate ship docking and joint military actions; they act as ambassadors for British defence exports (I mentioned the example of the Typhoon as a possible consideration for the RMAF) and they do report on military activities, aiding UK’s Defence Intelligence branch.

Give this impressive range of Defence attaches, you might think there’s no need for any change. Well, there could areas that could be strengthen. The UK has formed a strong alliance with Japan as pledged in pre-Brexit 2015 SDSR. The UK could or should elevate its defence attache is Tokyo to a OF-6 rank so as not just affirm this new relationship but also to place the defence attache on par with his/her counterparts in Beijing/Pyongyang and Seoul. One immediate challenge for this elevation is that the cost of living in Tokyo or Japan is extremely high. This is also probably why the defence attache in Singapore was reduced in rank. Second, higher-rank defence attaches need to be matched with responsibilities equal to their rank. One area the British Defence Attache in Japan or his/her assistant could work on is to created a Naval Support facility at a Japanese port, something akin to the support facility at Mina Salman port in Bahrain. This would improve support Royal Navy or other British Armed Forces transiting up to East Asia.

Beyond defence attaches, the UK should improve partnerships with more exchange personnel or personnel embedded in Asia-Pacific military forces. The UK already has a Royal Marine Brigadier as Deputy Director, International Logistics and Security Co-operation at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Recently, a Royal Navy Commander was was appointed as a liaison officer to the JSDF. These are great establishments and the UK could expand this, placing officers in other armed forces such as South Korea’s and Japan’s. Thhe UK should continue to train Asia-Pacific personnel in the whole range of British Armed Forces and likewise send British personnel on exchange in Asia-Pacific militaries to learn about their training and standard operating procedures. In fact, in 2014, two junior British Army officers went on an exchange with the PLA ground force academy. Yes you may detest how they force march and eat, but such inter-military exchanges bring about greater understanding of each other’s practices and culture, thus aiding British Defence Intelligence.

Third, the UK has engaged with the Asia-Pacific region through visits with defence-related visits by UK officials and politicians. Yes this link mentioned a whole host of them visiting Singapore. Yet, this was a one-off and most of them were just short conferences or meetings. US, Australian and other Asian leaders and senior officers have often conducted visits to maintain or strengthen relationships and the UK should like wise perform such exchanges. In Part I, detailed Williamson’s trip before and during the Shangri-la Dialogue. UK Ministers and the CDS or VCDS should affirm that they will attend this annual conference which only requires a hop on to either the RAF VIP Voyager or a normal flight. In the event of any UK General Election like in 2017, the UK MOD’s Permanent Secretary can take the place of the Secretary of State. All this would again deepen defence and security relations with individual countries or wider Asia-Pacific pacts like the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM-Plus). Closer exchanges could even result in awards to UK military leaders.For example, Former CDS Nick Houghton received an an honorary Panglima Gagah Angkatan Tentera (PGAT) or Knight Grand Commander of the Order of Military Service from Malaysia back in 2015. So you do get some personal awards through engagement with your counterparts.

This talk about engagement with Asia-Pacific officials also extends to British academics and journalist. Yours truly has seen so many of these two groups believe 1) Britain no longer needs to look East or care about the Asia-Pacific; 2) call it the archaic ‘Far East’; 3) spew anti-Asian or specifically anti-Chinese rants (Prof you know who, I’m talking about you) 4) or say the UK should mainly or only focus on the NATO front. Some of these have designated titles like reporter for Asian issues or Lecturer/Senior Lecturer/Assistant or full Professor for East Asian studies. Yet they have never stepped a foot in this geographical region and only claim that China or North Korea or Vietnam is not democratic or capitalistic enough to receive UK/Western support. Hardly any of them have been to security dialogues like the Shangri-la Dialogue but are happy to spew unsubstantiated comments which do affect UK policy. If British youths can backpack through the region and post photos of themselves (sometimes topless, haha) on mountain tops, surely journalists and academics can visit the region (well clothed). Such visits of course may not change their pro-Europe or narrow-minded or anti-Asian views, but at least it is a start of stronger understanding. Plus, if they at least try for the Shangri-la Dialogue, who wouldn’t want to be in such a nice hotel?

A bridge not too far

Yes, it is not a such a great if there are more engagement by British government, military and media officials with the Asia-Pacific region. It may be a bridge quite far to increase UK military deployments to the Asia-Pacific (again please do not say Far East) given how UK financial and willpower appears at present. There is a slight glimmer of hope in the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) that will be, hopefully, released in a few week’s time. The recent NSCR did mention the importance of the wider Asia-Pacific to UK National Security, but it is quite doubtful whether the MOD-led MDP will back this up. Beyond all this, I again emphasise UK willpower needs to increase in order to meet and sustain any increase in UK defence and security policy toward East Asia. Gavin Williamson has supposedly started a battle with Philip Hammond over the size of the defence budget. I have mentioned the Treasury is a constantly target whenever defence commentators see the size of HM Armed Forces as shrinking. The feud actually should be beyond financial terms: They should fight over whether the UK should stay in its backyard or see that wider areas like the Asia-Pacific region. Only if there’s a strong willpower will any of the above suggestions actually happen and we will actually see the Union Jack flying high to maintain security in the Asia-Pacific.