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 catpults 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 weaponary, 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. 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 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 aircraft 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, USNMC and USMC on board to assist with logistics distribution and USN or USMC aviation ordnanceman 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 different 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. 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.

Why the UK must have defence engagement with that region Part 1: Gavin Williamson in the Asia-Pacific

While many British people were either complaining about the weather or worrying about Brexit, Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson and his delegation were abroad seven hours ahead of GMT plus 1 time. Namely, Williamson was in Malaysia, then Brunei and finally in Singapore for the annual Shangri-la Dialogue, or as known in social media circles as #SLD18.

First stop, Malaysia and Brunei

These twitter posts thisone and this from the UK High Commissioner to Malaysia showed that he first met with the new Malaysian Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu. Naturally, no one knows what Williamson and Sabu exactly discussed, but Malaysia is a Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) member, and a key importer of British defence equipment for decades. For example, Malaysia has bought Starstreak missiles and may be aiming for the Eurofighter Typhoon, once it gets its finances in order.

Williamson then headed further eat to Brunei, where most Brits love for its exotic nature and mountains, but in the case of British defence policy, there has been a British Army base there, more specifically a Gurkha regiment. Jokes or no jokes, Williamson watched how jungle training is conducted and received a garland from them.

To Singapore for the Shangri-la Dialogue or SLD18

Photo op with the Gurkhas over, William head back west to Singapore, where SLD18 was occurring. In true British defence media fashion, his appearance was only announced late only on the first of June. Information on Williamson’s activity came from other media, specifically Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), which noted he was hosted to a breakfast meeting with his FPDA counterparts by Singapore’s defence minister Ng. (Piece of trivia: Williamson is the youngest and second most recent FPDA minister.) Next, Williamson met up with the Prime Minister of Singapore, most probably discussing about general UK-Singapore topics. What was more surprising was later that day, Williamson and Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng signed a Defence Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding (DCMOU), promising greater cooperation in defence areas such as cyber-security and information warfare, as well exchanging knowledge over counter-terrorism and counter-improvised explosive device (IEDs). For a country far away from Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific, one which has reduced its presence since the handover of Hong Kong, this MOU might be a definitive re-construction of a UK-Singapore and UK-Southeast Asian relationship.

Williamson’s major day was on Sunday 3rd of June, the last day of SL18 where he on a panel with French Minister for the Armed Force Parly and Singapore’s Ng.. His speech was pretty traditional by British political sound-bites. What I mean is that he talked about the so-called ruled-based order which nation-states are suppose to follow but increasingly have not. Williamson, as have other British politicians, drew up the example of the Salisbury/Skirpal attack as an example. But that is hardly one, since many nation-states, not just Russia and China, have not played the ruled-based order but for their own interests. Anyway, Williamson continued stating much of UK contributions of Asia Pacific story, such as the deployment of HMS Sutherland, HMS Albion and later this year HMS Argyll. Those have been mentioned many times in social and mainstream media. Similarly, Williamson (possibly proudly) announced that British Army personnel would deploy to Japan later this year for bilateral exercises. This again isn’t new; it has been announced before. Williamson then joked that the UK need to send more ships to the Asia-Pacific, since France sent five warships to the region in 2017 and in 2018 This joke is probably Williamson’s highlight at SLD18, you may search the rest of twitter for the summary or comments about his speech in this thread.

Update: IISS has uploaded his speech here (You have to download it to read or watch the full video of all three speakers.)

What’s all this fuss about Williamson’s Southeast Asian trip?

I know Williamson has been mocked by journalist for comments about Russia but seriously, twitter users should stop tweeting about that and tweet more about his time in Southeast Asia. This especially is because this is 1) his first major trip to this region and 2) his  inaugural trip to the region’s most prominent conference (in 2017, no UK politician attended the SLD; only CDS Air Chief Marshal Peach did since it was after the 2017 General Election.) In fact, besides Williamson, HMS Sutherland was docked there, visited by the Commander Devonport Flotilla Flotilla. VCDS General Sir Gordon Messenger was also at the conference, speaking on new technologies and the future of conflict, therefore presenting a truly prominent British presence at the SLD. But, wait, some defence commentators (I shall not name who), will say all this is just ‘spreading the defence jam thin’. They say, oh, sending these warships and these troops are tokens and won’t have much of an impact. The UK should concentrate on the Euro-Atlantic area, where NATO is a core military alliance, or the Middle East, or Africa and leave the distant Far East/Asia-Pacific to the US of A, Trump or whoever is in the White House. They drum the beat, the UK has no interest in the Asia-Pacific, the world will be divided, let’s focus on home…

I sincerely disagree. This has been tried before in history, during World War Two. Then the UK prioritised its forces on its home front. That may be a sound decision, yet it resulted in Imperial Japan defeating British and Commonwealth forces in the Far East. Even closer to British shores, it initially suffered defeated in North Africa before defeated the Nazis. Ok, one might still argue that at present with the worry over Brexit, rising threats from closer state actors like Russia and extreme-Islamist terrorism may suggest the focus should be at home. For example, Sir Humphrey in fact wrote that the region pose little military threat to the UK.

Yet, that assessment was back in 2012 and six years later, China has reclaimed land in that disputed area, massing long-range anti-ship cruise missiles and air-defense missiles. The PRC has also harassing fishing ships around those waters. Closer to home, China has also possibly meddled with UK security through ownership of the Hinkley Point nuclear power station. Then There is also the North Korean crisis. Yes, North Korea is a huge distance away from the UK, it is Trump’s fault for adding fuel to the fire, yet the DPRK has launched a cyber attack an a chemical attack that actually killed someone. In the wider scope, even before the Brexit referendum, East Asia was a highly important economic powerhouse and a more crucial trading bloc for the UK due to its stellar economic growth and technological advancement. Now, whatever type of Brexit approach the UK takes, the East Asian/Asia-Pacific region will definitely continue to be a critical area for UK economic security and survival (just check the World Bank trade statistics for example). If the defence of the realm is the first priority of government, then protecting trade routes in the Asia-Pacific and preserving economic security there is not a cheap token, but a core duty. It is certain not ‘spreading the jam thin’ but preventing any pest or new pest from eating your beloved crops.

This is the end of Part I. Part II will discuss the range of plausible, not possible UK responses to ensure security in the Asia-Pacific.

Thoughts on the National Security Capability Review

The UK’s National Security Capability Review (NSCR) was released without much fanfare in March 2018. Rather than open it up with a parliamentary debate, it was just stated via a Written Ministerial Statement, then posted online on the gov.uk website. Along with the NSCR, a Cross-Government Funds Review (also not debated and released in a Written Statement) was published, basically a summary of the Prosperity Fund Annual Report 16-17 and the Conflict Security Stability Fund (CSSF) Annual Report 16-17. In this article, I’ll be concentrating mostly on the NSCR and partly on the upcoming Modernising Defence Review (MDP).

Background

The NSCR arose from the 2015 NSS & SDSR (here after known as SDSR 2015) because there were  new “uncertain [and] volatile” threats since 2015 and the NSCR is to:

identify how we [the UK] could develop, deliver and deploy our considerable national security capabilities to maximum collective effect.

. The Joint Committee for National Security Strategy (JCNSS) gave a stronger and more closely-examined an excellent investigation on how the NSCR came about (see National Security Capability Review A changing security environment pp.8-19.) A written evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee also provides a succinct timeline how the NSCR and later the MDP came about. Basically, the NSCR took a really long time to come about from April 2017 to March 2018, probably longer than SDSR 2010 and SDSR 2015.

One should also note that the 2017 annual report of SDSR 2015 is also mixed within the NSCR. Previously, the 2016 report or Corporate report was published as a separate piece. Stepping back, the NSCR is unique as this is the first review of a SDSR and maybe even all British defence reviews. Ok, previously, there was a New Chapter added to the 1998 Strategic Defence Review but I wouldn’t consider that a review of a review. It certainly is confusing.

What is this NSCR anyway?

As much as they say this NSCR is not a SDSR-like review, it contains words and phrases like any previous Strategic Defence Review. The first part already states a whole series of pledges. These pledges are part of the ‘streams’ or topics that the National Security Council (NSC) decided upon. These streams are:

• Our National Security Doctrine;
• Defence;
• Counter-terrorism;
• Cyber;
• Serious and organised and economic crime;
• Ports and borders;
• National resilience;
• Global Britain;
• National security strategic communications;
• Economic security, prosperity and trade;
• Development;
• Cross-government funds.

In the NSCR, these are again mentioned with the ‘Our National Security Doctrine’ stream replaced as the ‘Fusion Doctrine’ while the ‘Global Britain’ strand turned into the pledge that

We will strengthen our overseas network so that we can reinvest in our relationships around the world, champion the rules-based system including free trade and use our soft power to project our values and advance UK interests.

Out of all the streams, the Fusion Doctrine is perhaps the most prominent and most peculiar stream. Defence and national security commentators online have indeed made comments, mostly jovial about it. According to NSCR document, the Fusion Doctrine (I do not want to abbreviate it to FD) helps to further draw in NSC ministerial members to strength a collective approach towards the three NSC aims or priorities: 1) Protecting our [the UK] people; 2) Projecting our [the UK’s] influence [abroad] and 3) Promoting our [the UK’s] prosperity. It is based on a post-Chilchot inquiry approach, especially through the MOD-created document, The Good Operation. According to the NSCR, “Many capabilities that can contribute to national security lie outside traditional [British] national security departments” therefore there is the need to draw in all possible national security-related tools to bear.

The NSCR simplifies in this cute diagram:

Fusion Doctrine

(PS  I don’t own the image. PPS: I know the quality of the picture sucks, so go view it directly on p.10 of the NSCR document)

This Fusion Doctrine nevertheless brings up the question: Why form it when the UK’s NSC was formed back in 2010 for the same reason? This question was post to the National Security Adviser, currently Mark Sedwill by Defence Committee by MP Gavin Robinson. Sedwill replied that it is a “step forward” from the NSC “building on it” as the UK deals with more intensifying threats and address “modern deterrence” issued, however you define what that is. He goes on to give the example of the response to the Salisbury chemical attack to prove how the Fusion Doctrine was used–the response took place before the full investigation was completed and therefore it occurred at a faster pace and with stronger allied support. The Fusion Doctrine therefore dominates other parts of NSCR especially in the topics of ‘Economic Security, Prosperity and Trade’ and ‘Cross-Government Funds’ and will most definitely be the basis for future UK national security documents.

The other main part of the NSCR  talks about certain “cross-cutting issues”, namely, 1) Innovation: 2) Science & Technology; 3) Data; 4) Strategic Assessment and 5) Diversity. Basically, they (the NSC and NSA) wish to speed up the UK national security machinery in 1,2,3, harness the use of 5 and they claimed to have conducted a national security assessment, although that was not published in the NSCR but will be later in 2018 (p.20, paragraph 26. So that’s the main crux of the NSCR; the rest of it covers the other eleven streams stated above.)

What is missing or what wrong with the NSCR?

As mentioned, the JCNSS report gave a very extensive evaluation of the NSCR, but it was published 11 days before the actual NSCR came out. I’ll try not use the same criticism the JCNSS used but rather choose four topics 1) criticism of the Fusion Doctrine (with reference to diagram above); 2) the lack of a review of the National Security Risk Assessment and 3) the fact that the NSCR is ‘fiscal neutral.

Criticism of the Fusion Doctrine (what that wheel all about?)

The Fusion  Doctrine puzzled many when the NSCR was published; some commentators online gave snide comments, others humorous. You can check twitter or other social media platforms to find out. On a more serious note, I too was puzzled and wondered the same questions that MP Gavin Robinson and the answers provided by Mark Sedwill hasn’t satisfied me. Surely there has been whole-of-government response during pre-NSCR periods? Global events and crises such as the 2011 Libya campaign, the wider Arab Spring, sectarian violence in Syria and Iraq, Russia’s illegal activities in Eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea all were approached via different UK government departments and organisations.

There has been joint up efforts by various departments such as through the CSSF and its predecessor, the Conflict Pool, was created long before the NSC or the Fusion Doctrine came about. The announcement of on this further joint-up approach towards any threat to the UK or national security issue doesn’t appear to a unique positive contribution. Using the examples of the Salisbury chemical attack and the US-UK-French strike on Syria, the joint-government department approach in both cases in my view is no different from pre-Fusion Doctrine approach.

Sedwill mentioned they reacted faster in the case of the Salisbury attack–instead of waiting for a full investigation, they approached it by showing the Russian government what the cost of such an attack would be, ie, placing a wide range of Russian embassy staff on persona non grata. While this and the response to Assad’s chemical attack appears fine, responding quickly may give the impression that not all facts and avenues were scrutinised. This then could give an indication that the British government or its related agencies would be ignoring the Chilchot inquiry or the MOD’s The Good Operation document.

The most criticism on social media about the Fusion Doctrine is the ‘wheel-shape’ diagram above, especially where the term ‘Armed Forces’ is located. Yes it is tucked at the ‘south east’ corner and appears to be the only defence-related item there. By placing the word ‘armed forces’ there amongst the many other tools, it appears that the Fusion Doctrine presents the British military as just a cog in a wheel and not a key voice or player.

This view or course is unwarranted since this is the National Security Capability Review, not the military-onlyCapability Review. Those who criticise that the military is sidelined, especially the House of Commons Defence Committee, journalists like Deborah Haynes all hold the biased view that the NSCR should be solely or mainly about the MOD and the British Armed Forces. This view is quite outdated as inferred by Lord Ricketts in this oral evidence (More about the separation of defence from the NSCR later) and do no service to the whole concept of the UK’s NSC in the first place. What these critics do have a point is that the voice of the armed forces or the MOD needs to be heard when the NSC chooses what mix of tools to use. The MOD and the armed forces must have a strong equal say on the same level as the other list tools in that wheel, perhaps equal to key tools such as diplomacy, development and covert forces.

 The lack of a review of the National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA)

They say the NSCR is not a SDSR or a mini-SDSR but reviewing capabilities only. The JCNSS report specifically reported that the NSA told me the NSCR will not review the NRSA but there will be a review of the NRSA published in the later part of 2018 (see above). This is really out of place, especially since the NSCR was created due to the increasing or “intensifying” range of threats (mentioned prominently in the document) and that the NSCR occurred after the majority of British people voted to leave the European Union, the rise of an unpredictable President of the United States and the new non-state and state-based threats. The 2010 NRA, listed Tier One (most highly likely) threats as 1) International terrorism; 2) Hostile attacks upon UK cyber space; 3) A major accident or natural hazard which requires a national response and 4) International military crisis between states that require UK and allied response (see p27) (All these are not ranked in terms of likelihood, only just as Tier One.) In the 2015 NRSA, the same topics were noted as Tier One risks, with additional topics namely 5) Public health crisis and 6) Instability overseas (see p87).

Yet, since SDSR 2015, UK officials and politicians increasingly saying that Russia and other nation states are becoming threats, see for example, Secret Intelligence Service Chief Younger’s speech, the Intelligence and Security Committee 2016 2017 report, sections on foreign countries, the speech given by General Sir Nicholas Carter at RUSI especially his video on Russian capabilities, CGHQ’s directors speech in April 2018, Gavin Williamson indicate than Russian is a bigger threat than terrorism, MI5’s Director General mentioning Russia as well in a recent speech and Chief of Defence Intelligence Osborn highlighting state-based threats. It is thus clear the current government views state-based threats as the biggest priority in Tier One, a clear topic not mentioned in in the previous NRSAs and only briefly stated in the  2016 Corporate Report, see page 6 paragraph 1.7. The NRSA review should therefore have been publish alongside the NSCR or in it rather than it pushed back to late 2018, where more different topics could be added to the Tier One list. A review on capabilities while perspectives on threats or actual threat is not really a review then.

The fact that the NSCR is ‘fiscal neutral’ or ‘fiscally neutral’

I’ve actually never heard the term ‘fiscal neutral’ or ‘fiscally neutral’ before but let’s use it anyway. The ‘criticism’ levelled by many parliamentarians (mainly from the House of Commons), the media (mainly Deborah Haynes from The Times and other defence journalists from other news papers), is the the NSCR’s (including the area of defence) woes could be simply solved by adding more money or pounds to the MOD’s budget. The blame, and I said it is a common and easy target to blame, lies exactly Treasury here. This can be seen in the follow parliamentary debates such as the introduction of the MDP, an emergency question on the MDP by Dr Lewis and the Lords debate about the MDP. Parliamentarians and commentators basically say, naughty Treasury, you aren’t giving enough to a department which protects the nation.

Let me focus on the on the NSCR, minus the area of defence which I’ll cover separately when the MDP comes out. It is incorrect to call it a review when it shows just how there would be more joint-up approach and a sweeping ‘yes we will do this’ list. It is even more astonishing that the review was conducted due to not so-called, but actual new or evolving threats to the UK without any possible financial increase to sharpen non-military UK defence. The 2015 SDSR did say the intelligence services account and personnel will receive a financial boost in real terms. Other UK departments like the Home Department or even like DEFRA–Climate Change is an ever evolving threat don’t appear to gain any monetary increase. A clear example is the newest Home Secretary calling for more finances for the police. UK national security does require more than one hard or soft power tool or department or institution, and if the threats change, the departments and institutions cannot always address the threat if constrained by a financial box.  Of course, this demand of more money comes after the NSCR, but is a relevant example on its failure for boxing in finances of these national security-linked agencies.

This ‘fiscal neutral’ condition draws in more criticism, especially those cheering solely for the MOD and/or the British Armed Forces. This lot of people see the ‘fiscal neutral’ condition as an extension of the British government whether Conservative or Labour, act not to place the MOD in charge of defence reviews except in 1991 or place defence first. It brings up the argument that British national security is best or only handled by the MOD and no away should HM Treasury or the Cabinet Office constrain defence spending. More about that in the post on the MDP.

Conclusion

The NSCR came out quite late and without a parliamentary debate, though perhaps that wouldn’t have produced constructive critique, given the current nature of Her Majesty’s opposition. It is claimed as a review, but largely contributes just a new, or rather updated concept of further joining up UK national security-related departments, agencies and tools, so that response to crises or harmful scenarios will be in one united and perhaps a more forceful response. The remainder of the NSCR does not really review but provides an multitude of pledges. Here, I tried to explain and critique the Fusion Doctrine and criticise the lack of a proper risk assessment and the failure to consider more financial funding despite the NSCR claiming that threats to the UK have ‘intensified’ or increased. As I have mentioned, there’s a more and better comprehensive critique found in the JCNSS report, even though it was published before the NSCR.

Does the UK need a Designated Survivor?

tweet by Larissa Brown, the defence editor/journalist from the Daily Mail, started of a serious and playful discussion, with other like-minded journalists thinking they could be Designated Survivors. But seriously, does the UK need a Designated Survivor?

What is a Designated Survivor (DS)?

Mr Wikipedia and Mr Google have lots of information, sometimes exaggerated or inaccurate on this phrase. Anyway, such a term or individual arises in the United States, most notably during the State of the Union Address or a full joint session of Congress and all senior US Government officials including the President of the United States (POTUS). One cabinet member, usually one with a low/minority post and a ‘true-blue’ Presidential Candidate individual–that is, above 35 and USA born–will not attend the glorious session but be kept in an unknown bunker, with a host of Secret Service Agents and a copy of the nuclear football. Should, God forbid, POTUS and or the Congress be killed by a nuclear warhead or warheads or terrorist bomb or end of the world device, this individual will be the acting POTUS. The US of A still has a leader. See this news article for instance and the list of US Cabinet Secretaries who failed to attend the State of the Union Address.

How about the British Context?

A general answer is no, from quick checks, there is no DS equivalent for major UK events, say the State Opening of Parliament. However, in the above twitter thread, this tweet answered that the “Vice Chamberlain of the Household …is the parliamentary ‘hostage’ for the State Opening of Parliament”. Ok yes, by convention, the Vice Chamberlain of the Household, who is is a senior whip, is held captive in Buckingham Palace, that is, he or she does not attending the event. But, there is no clear suggestion that the Vice Chamberlain of the Household will assume the role of acting Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, should the presiding Prime Minister, again God forbid, be incapacitated or killed out right during this event or other major events. My good contact, @TheSecurocrat provided his view here, which may be a closer answer but still leaves the debate open.

Back to the question: Isn’t this a worry for the British leadership?

Yes, some may say. Tensions are high right now, threats are coming from Russia, global terrorism and other areas of extremism. The current threat level, as of this post on 21/4/2018, is severe, one level before there is an imminent attack. Should there really be an attack on the senior leadership of the UK, who will replace the PM immediately? Who would advise on leading the country or even detail a retaliation against adversary, perhaps even ordering a SLBM strike from the SSBN on patrol?

The answer, even before the UK gained a nuclear power, is, we don’t know for certain. The UK does not have a fixed constitution like other countries, rather, it is an ‘ uncodified constitution’. The reigning monarch, will ask the winning leader from the British General Election to form a government and that leader becomes the Prime Minister. There is no set deputy or vice to Prime Minister of the day. The 2011 Cabinet Manual, specifically paragraph 3.11, states:

The title of Deputy Prime Minister [DPM] is sometimes given to a senior minister in the Government, for example the deputy leader of the party in government or the leader of the smaller party in a coalition. The role of the Deputy Prime Minister is sometimes combined with other roles, but responsibilities will vary according to the circumstances….The fact that a person has the title of Deputy Prime Minister does not constrain the Sovereign’s power to appoint a successor to a Prime Minister.

The first and last line assets that a) there is no compulsory position for a UK DPM for any PM and b) the Sovereign appoints the next UK Prime Minster and all Prime Ministers even if there is a DPM. The again is the same for the ‘senior’ position of First Secretary of State (Cabinet Manual, 3.12). In the US, it is clear that if the POTUS is impeached, ill, or has passed away, the Vice President assumes his position or in the case of the major events, the DS. This naturally leads to critics wondering again: Should the PM be unfit (eg be medically ill or sick) or really murdered, who will take his or her place? The PM after all, directs the nation, the UK’s position globally, and especially the armed forces. Well, looking down in the history of British PMs, some had Deputy Prime Ministers like Churchill, Atlee, Eden, Macmillian, Thatcher, Major, Blair and of course, Cameron, naturally appointed a DPM from another political party given his coalition government. Macmillian, Wilson, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron all also had First Secretaries of State, many of these were also DPMs before. For PMs without a clear DPM or First Secretary of State, they do still have a designated ‘deputy’, who appears prominently during Prime Ministers Questions when their boss is away. For example, Harriet Harman deputised for Gordon Brown in March 2009. In the case where there’s no clear deputy mentioned by the PM or found by the media, the deputy is usually the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

But really, does the UK need to copy the US and have a Designated Survivor during major events? One must realise that the DS in the US (and maybe in Russia and in China) isn’t just the leader-in-waiting during high-profile events, but part of the wider US Continuity of Government (COG) plan. This link gives a very detailed description of COG and COG is used almost daily, especially when the POTUS travels abroad. A US DS, as mentioned above, will be next to the nuclear football, formally known as the Presidential Emergency Satchel. He or she will be explained by the Football Carrier and possibly nearby senior military officers, the evacuation procedures and quite possibly, the range of targets for a nuclear attack or counterattack using ICBMs, SLBMs, B-2, B-52 bombers and in the future, B-21s. He or she will direct US Armed Forces, the US finances and the the whole might of the US nation after the elected POTUS. This is so because the US, whatever crises or wars it has been through, is still a reigning superpower and COG allows such power to be maintained and therefore a DS plays a crucial part in it.

What about the UK? The UK is not a mighty superpower it once was but is a P5 member on the UN Security Council, a leading member of the World Bank and the IMF, the G7.8/20 and so on. Yet, it nothing on the scale of the US, Russia or China, even as it should not falter in its efforts of being a major power. What I mean is, the UK does not, inasmuch as it tries, match might of the US of A. It does not have a nuclear triad like the US, Russia or China, and therefore there officially does not exist a UK equivalent of the nuclear football for any UK PM. The UK doesn’t have the range of conventional and strategic command and control a US POTUS or DS has or will have respectively. I mean, there is no UK equivalent of the E-6 Mercury or E-4 E4 Advanced Airborne Command Post for the  UK PM. The British PM does not even have a dedicated Air Force One like a POTUS has–don’t try to argue that the Cam or May Force One is the same as the VC-25s!

So really, the DS is not about one person but a range of assurances that yes, whatever happens to the US, there will always be a POTUS for the US of A. For the UK, its government, military/defence, economic and position it not near the size of US to warrant a constant COG. Yes, US COG doesn’t just happen at certain times but 24/7. The POTUS always has nuclear football near here 24/7/365, and people in the US line of succession are always kept in the loop. The UK, in contrast, again has a different and smaller range of leadership and global position and does not have a need for a person to standby to be PM. Having a DS or fixed individual ready to be PM would be not just a political waste, but a financial waste–the maintenance of a the US CG and DS must be really expensive and such expenditure would be better allocated to other areas of UK security. Furthermore, to create a UK DS or fixed deputy or vice PM, it would change the UK’s relationship with other major global powers and even increase the security threats to the UK. In the case of the US, because of its nuclear triad and range of powers, it can maintain a COG and a DS as it does not really change the threat levels towards the US. (This I know is debatable but I’ll leave it here.)

COG and DS usage in reality and well fiction

But, critics cry again, there have been times the UK and US leadership has been threaten and several US Presidents have been assassinated, most famously John F Kennedy. Recent files showed that the Soviets feared a random US General might have launched a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union immediately after his death. COG was more recently used in the September 11 attacks. Richard Clarke, the then National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism, initiated COG, which resulted in the then Speaker of the House, Denis Hastert, evacuated to a secure location and other Cabinet officials moved to alternative sites. (Read Clarke R. A, 2004, Against all Enemies, The Free Press, paperback version pp.7-9). Most recently, in fiction, Tom Kirkman, played by actor Kiefer Sutherland, was elevated from Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to POTUS due to an (spoilers!) American terrorist attack during the State of the Union address. If the ‘leader of the Free World’ can be threatened or killed, what about the UK PM?

A Designated Survivor in fiction: Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) as the sudden President of the United States. This is most definitely the TV series Brown was watching and therefore tweeted about it. (All copyright is own by ABC).

On the UK end, luckily and maybe unluckily, there was only one British PM, Spencer Perceval who was assassinated in office. More well-known attempts on British PMs were the IRA attacks on the 1984 Conservative Party Conference in Brighton and the 1991 IRA mortar on 10 Downing Street. I don’t think Perceval had a deputy then or there was really need for the British leadership then to have a DS. Margaret Thatcher most certainly had a deputy, but it was not sure if she had a DS but most probably had a UK type of COG  during her Premiership. (I’m sure there are historians who know more about UK government protective procedures during the Cold War days since I’m not an expert on this.)

Much more recently, after the Cold War, after the September 11 attacks, after the 2003 Iraq War, yes, there was an attempt to structure the British Cabinet and parliament so that there would be a line of succession after the PM. This award goes to Peter Bone, MP for Wellingborough, who wondered what would happen if the then Prime Minister, David Cameron would be incapacitated or killed. Would Nick Clegg, the then Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the Liberal Democrat leader, take over the coalition government which was Conservative Party-led? Drop your “morbid fascination” was the parliamentary reply from Clegg and the then PM. Cameron also added, “[a]ll I can say is that I have no plans to be incapacitated.” Bone still was undeterred and proposed this Prime Minister (Replacement) bill two years later, structuring who would be Prime Minister should the sitting PM be incapacitated or killed. You can review a debate of the bill here. Thankfully, Mr Cameron never got injured (only struck by a jogger) or killed in office. Bone continued to raise this issue with David Cameron again in September 2015 who would replace him if he was was killed. No answer. At present, Bone is still a MP today and still has this bill in mind as of 5 September 2017. One wonders if he will ask Theresa May the same question, give that she has not appointed a DPM or First Secretary of State after Damian Green resigned.

So that’s the recent history of attempts on the lives the British PM. There’s no fictional TV series or movie about British Designated Survivors (I could be wrong though). Do we still worry who will be in charge should there be a disaster or a London has fallen event? (I actually hate that movie by the way.) After 2010, there was the creation of the UK National Security Council which is ministers-staff and has sub-committees on threats and emergency procedures, so that all Ministers work in coordination and known what to do in the event of emergencies. But who does the rest of the wider UK government and armed forces trust during a huge disaster/strike?

In the 1997 action movie Air Force One, the Vice President asks: Who do they [people on Air Force One] trust up there? Who do we trust? (Picture copyright by Columbia Pictures)

Conclusion

A UK-style Designated Survivor for large important events such as the State Opening of Parliament or major events may be relevant. Yet, the UK’s military, economic and political in the the world is not the same as the US of A, and one must remember the Designated Survivor is a position within the wider scope of the constant US Continuity of Government. The UK may have its own version COG, but keeping a DS for events will be costly and quite frankly not needed. Across the UK’s parliamentary and Prime Minister’s history, it has survived through not just State Opening of Parliaments, but two World Wars and a range of other crises. Get a fixed deputy in charge? No,the Prime Minister of the day is decided and appointed by his or her Majesty.

Mr Peter Bone’s queries and plan, as thoughtful and relevant as it is, was more to ensure that no one individual who is not related to the Conservative Party replaces Cameron or May, not so much caring for a true UK-style Designated Survivor. The British Armed Forces, inasmuch as it is under civilian control, looks to the Sovereign of the day as their Commander-in-Chief. In the case of any crisis or emergency, I am sure all participants, from the military to down to the person in the street, will have a PM or leader in charge. Perhaps one day, there will be a changed role for the UK globally and thus a constitutional change that requires an awaiting person to be PM if and if the Prime Minister is insane, injured or killed. As of British political history and now, there is just no need for a Designated Survivor or a US-style Continuity of Government.