Saw this the other day. Julian Lewis, Conservative MP and Chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee is, no, has been a life long advocate of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, erroneously but colloquially known as ‘Trident’. In the interview, Lewis stated that three of the five powers–UK, France and China–were not part of the nuclear arms race and have not been so. I’m not an expert of France or China, but it is quite clear that the latter has been improving its nuclear launch capabilities and arsenal. Sites likeNTI and this news release have pointed out the growth of China’s nuclear arsenal. Unlike France, China has the typical ‘triad’ of nuclear weapons–land-based, sea-based and aerial-based. So the good Doctor is incorrect in this point.
Since bearded, love-IRA, hate-NATO, love-Hamas (you get my drift) Corbyn was “elected” leader of the UK Labour Party and thus Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, there has been controversy almost every other day. One of the biggest was that over the UK’s nuclear deterrent, erroneously called “Trident” in British circles. Corbyn, a a certain BBC Today Programme, stated that “I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons. I [Corbyn] am opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons…” and the report claimed that “Should he get to Number 10, he said simply, he would not press the nuclear button…” (see this news report).
Fast foward to 4 October 2015 where Andrew Marr interviewed David Cameron. Here’s the full transcript (I don’t have access to the BBC today transcript.) Andrew Marr asked:
Marr: You mentioned Jeremy Corbyn just now. He said, with admirable clarity and honesty, that there were no circumstances in which he would press the nuclear button. Would you say the same or would you say yes there are circumstances…
Cameron: …No his answer … The problem with his answer is that if you want to have…if you believe, like me, that Britain should keep the ultimate insurance policy of an independent nuclear deterrent, you have to accept there are circumstances in which its use would be justified. And if you give any other answer other than that, you are frankly undermining our national security, undermining our deterrent and making Britain in a dangerous world…
Marr: So you would press the button in short?
Cameron: I’ve given the answer, which is if you believe in the nuclear deterrent – as I do – you have to accept there are circumstances that justify its use.
My interpretation is that Corbyn would never increase the readiness level of the SSBNs or never issue the order to fire if the UK is under the threat of a state-led nuclear attack or has already been nuked, Corbyn as PM (ugh!) would not fire a Trident D5 missile in retaliation (since if he was PM he would have dismantled the SSBNs and their SLBMS). David Cameron and future possible conservative PMs would do the opposite: should the UK be under nuclear attack or nuked, they would increase the alert level of the deployed SSBN and fire back in retaliation if the UK was nuked.
Corbyn’s “I will never push the button” stated resulted in many media and social media “outrage” that he’s not a leader with any credibility on defence and is undermining defence and the nuclear deterrent. Mark Stout from War on the Rocks wrote pro-nuclear deterrent article attack dear bearded one and saying he should never be Prime Minister.
That’s find, people can be outraged. The fact of the matter is that Andrew Marr and media outlets created a storm with factually incorrect information. First, there is no “nuclear button” in the UK. Yes, it is known that UK command and control over its nuclear weapons in the past and present is not as stringent as in the US. Former WE, 177 bombs were only secured via so-called bicycle locks. Past and possible current SSBNs do not have the US “Permission Active Link” security system PAL as the MOD said, “The number of participants required to act in concert means that the ‘Permissive Action Link’ type safeguards found in other systems are not relevant in the SSBN domain” and “The UK took a decision not to install Trident CCDs or their equivalent on the grounds that an aggressor might be able to wipe out the British chain of command before a launch order had been sent”. (This matter of weak C&C will be discussed in another post.) Instead of having a so-called button, all UK Prime Ministers (possibly) go through a similar “two-man” rule, like the US POTUS does (should they want to start or add to doomsday). As Paul Beaver, a strong military analyst explained, the order (to launch a SLBM) has to go through several protocols I quote the news article:
A sequencing system ensures a printed code, stored in a secret Ministry of Defence location, has to tally with that kept in a safe on board the nuclear submarine. Two officers, extensively tested for their mental stability, sit in separate parts of the submarine and enter the code simultaneously into a computer, allowing the launch. The PM makes the decision, but several other people probably get involved at various points during the process, including the attorney general and the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.
The rest of the article talks about the “letters of last resort” which is more well known and written in open access publications. This two-man control has also been confirmed by RUSI analyst and nuclear proliferation expert Andrea Berger, who told yours truly that If PM inputs code in PINDAR he needs [a] second person (CDS I believe) to verify. Formally, order won’t go anywhere without it. (Pindar is the protected bunker under Whitehall–possibly–where the PM and staff would go in nuclear crisis or something of that sort). Beyond the two-man control (especially on board the submarine), former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Lord Guthrie says the Monarch of the day controls the armed forces so that even an irrational or lunatic Prime Minister won’t be able to easily start World War Three. (This claim may sound far-fetched though). The bottom line is that neither anti-nuclear weapons Corbyn no “yes I’ll fire” Cameron or any future (or past) UK Prime Minister can easily press. So end of ruckus please.
The second issue missing from the Marr and BBC question is the time frame that leaders to the decision. In both C and C’s claim, they won’t or will fire due to a threat or an attack to the UK. However, exactly what led up to this threat? Was there a total breakdown in relationships between the UK and a nuclear weapon state? Did negotiations fails? Did conventional war break out or large-scale proxy war? Was the UK acting aggressively or too passively? The whole conventional idea of the nuclear deterrent means that I won’t fire because I know you wold fire back. But about the time frame that may cause State A to still fire? This is the big question that people must ponder over.
77th Brigade/SAG sub-units
Three out of four of these units are well known as there were quite active in Operation Herrick in Afghanistan. The MOG for example, was there to present the Army’s and the armed forces role to the Afghans and the wider UK and international community. The MOG sends out teams to HQ or battlegroup teams to report the new or teach personnel how to deal with the media. (See also this explanation for media operations) The MOG has obviously being displayed through the British Army’s own blog, especially through a certain Captain Lisa Irwin. There’s also Captain Lorna Ward, who’s full time job is a producer at Sky News but also a MOG team member in Iraq (see Broadcast, 2008 “A window into Iraq” Broadcast, 11 January 2008). Its teams are most probably the Combat Camera Teams (CCTs) as seen by a news article on Major Paul Smyth (PR Week, 2010, “Major Paul Smyth – Facing two lines of fire”, PR Week, p.16, 5 March 2010). There was also this news release detailing then 4th Mechanized Brigade’s deployment to Afghanistan (UK Government News, 2012, Communicating 4th Mech’s upcoming Afghanistan Tour, UK Government News, 3 September 2012).The MOG itself has a <a href=”https://twitter.com/MediaOps_Group”>twitter account, though that hasn’t been updated since 2013 (not exactly the twitter warriors you want eh?).
While all this may have painted a rosy-red picture of the MOG, some other reports do not. A certain TA now Army Reserve (AR) Captain Christian Hill in one CCT apparently saw the CCT/MOG as twisting the truth about the Army’s/Armed Forces role in Afghanistan. Hill resigned his position/commission in (Leicester Mercury, 2014, “‘I’m no Goebbels. There was never an occasion when I thought I was peddling military propaganda'”, Leicester Mercury, 25 April 2014; Gallagher, P., 2014, “Second officer resigns to tell truth about war; ARMY”, i-Independent Print Ltd, 12 April 2014). There’s also this Guardian news article about Hill. Another less serious resignation was that of the MOG’s CO in 2014. Lieutenant Colonel Vickie Sherieff was appointed as CO sometime in 2013, as stated by her predecessor. The Telegraph article said her elevation would be a poster girl (not boy) for the drive to get more people to get more people to join the AR. Sherieff’s resignation was due to her promotion in a new job scope. Anyway, it is undoubtedly the case that the MOG would skew the image of the British Army/Armed Forces. But let’s skip down to a more well-known unit.
The MSSG is probably more famous than the MOG and one of the few famous non-combat British Army units across the last decade. According to page 1685 of this book, the MSSG was established in 2009 to help reconstruction/stabilisation of Afghanistan. This unit was formerly known as the the Joint Civil Military Cooperation Group and has long been under the control of the Royal Engineers. The MSSG’s website gives a clear indication of the unit’s mission and it is NOT PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE! Rather, it is a “unique defence organisation that provides the UK with an array of skills and knowledge, that can be used to provide military support to the civilian efforts to stabilise countries around the world that are either emerging from conflict or are at risk of sliding into chaos.” It is therefore clear this sub-unit is not primarily aimed to counter regions and states conflicts and post-conflicts.
This can be further elaborated through various news articles detailing the MSSG’s activities:
1)One of the earliest I can find is MSSG personnel training Ugandan soldiers in disaster management (Africa News, 2009, “Uganda; British Soldiers Train Locals, Africa News, 24 August 2009).
2) A second article, this time by the MOD, details the success of the unit in Afghanistan. The article mentions influencing the Afghan population, but not directly through psychological warfare. Instead it emphasises the terms “CIMIC (Civil Military Co-operation)” and “stabilisation” pop up, indicating the unit’s actions (States News Service, 2010, “Stabilisation in Afghanistan: Winning the population from the insurgent, States News Service, 4 August 2010).
3) Further articles again highlight the MSSG’s role again in training others for disasters (Bagnall, S., 2010, “I’m helping Africans prepare to face disaster; TA OFFICER ORGANISES EMERGENCY RESPONSE”, Daily Post (North Wales), 17 November 2010, p.17; Kernan, L., 2010, “Sergeant’s live-saving African trip”, Aberdeen Evening Express, 18 November 2010, p.16; States News Service, 2011, “MOD Staff help Ugandans prepare for disaster relief, States News Service, 10 January 2011; Sutton Observer,2011, “Officer’s key role in project to help flood disaster plans”, Sutton Observer, 2 December 2011).
4) MSSG Stabilisation exercises (The Times (London), 2012, “Stabilisation exercise in Botswana; Military matters News in brief”, The Times (London), 7 January 2012; see also this MOD release and this blog entry (which also contains references to the MOG). Most prominently, an MSSG team was sent out to Jakarta for a disaster management exercise in 2014. You can read the four blog entries for yourself: part 1, <a< span=””> href=”https://britisharmy.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/jakarta-an-exercise-in-disaster-management-pt2/”>part 2, part 3, <a href=”https://britisharmy.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/jakarta-an-exercise-in-disaster-management-pt4/”>part 4, also see <a href=”https://www.</a<></afacebook.com/BritishEmbassyJakarta/posts/865543133459243″>this facebook entry. This exercise once again highlights the group’s role of role of disaster prevention and ultimately country stabilisation or BOSOS.
5) The rest of the news articles I could find were personnel with the MSSG awarded for their duties (see for example MSSG awarded for humanitarian work in Afghanistan; Free Press Series, 2011, “Chepstow colonel delighted at New Year’s honour”, Free Press Series, 5 January 2011; West Briton, 2012, “Exemplary soldier ‘Pez’ is killed on his final tour”; West Briton, 12 July 2012, p.4; Navy officer recognised for Engineering role.
6) Finally, an article relating to a contract (News Bites – Private Companies, 2014, “UK MOD Awards Safety Contract to BMT 03 June 2014”, News Bites – Private Companies, 4 June 2014.
As the various news reports show, the MSSG is certainly not a unit to spread psychological change but to implement the UK’s interpretation of stability. Of course, stability can mean spreading of British values (which the Army has been in tool in all of the UK’s conflicts) but it can also mean instilling certain international norms as part of the intervention process. This certainly isn’t direct psychological warfare. What else…oh as the MSSG’s website and above news reports state that its is a tri-service unit. It is also a hybrid unit–one that combines both regular and reserve personnel. This Financial Times (you may have to subscribe to read) article shows a high-flying management consultant as a reservist in the MSSG. The unit itself was also a recipient of the SUN newspaper military awards. In summary, the MSSG is a unit that works closely with UK departments to ensure stability and peace in foreign countries, perhaps promoting British interests and values, or international standards. It is certainly far away from the area of Psyops.
Now, the next unit in the 77th Brigade/SAG evidently/obviously is focused on Psychological Warfare. 15 POG came into being in 1998. It gained “Initial Operating Capability with new multi-media equipment supplied through MOD DEC ISTAR Project DRUMGRANGE during 2007” further cementing role a a PSYOPS unit. (See this link
OK what is really known about this unit? There used to be primary webpages for 15POG: One on the British Army’s website and on the Royal Navy’s website (UK Armed Forces are notorious in not moving web links when they update their webpages or even produce accurate orbats.) These pages not only introduce the unit–its emblem and its naming–but also give a historical background to British Psyops. 15 POG was previously under the 1 or 1st Military Intelligence Brigade, page 107. As with the MSSG, it is also a hybrid and tri-coloured unit, drawing reservists from the Royal Navy and RAF Regiment (see also Derby Evening Telegraph, 2013, “‘I’m so proud of my reservist husband over his Afghan role’ “, Derby Evening Telegraph, 14 September 2013). There is even a LinkedIn page set up by some one for forme members to join. Members of the unit include (former) Royal Navy Commander Steve Tatham, Stephen Jolly, former Director of Defence Communications at the MOD and Colonel Colin Mason. Another British Army Corporal, Sarah Bryant was a member of 15 POG but tragically killed in Afghanistan (Johnson, A., 2008, “‘She died doing the job she loved. She was a truly special person who died a hero’ “, The Independent on Sunday, 22 June 2008).
If those archived webpages and the psywar.org link doesn’t explain 15 POG’s mission,this BBC article by ex-Defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt gives a succinct report on the unit’s operations in Afghanistan. 15 POG wasawarded the Firmin Sword of Peace in recognition of their work in Afghanistan. It has uses all form of traditional media–music, radio, print, and now internet–to influence both military and civilian adversaries. With the 77th Brigade’s announcement, 15 POG (possibly joint or along with the MOG), will use social media to “attack” or influence its enemies. Undoubtedly, it’s future mission will be that of PSYOPS but PSYOPS can be a means to stabilise and develop conflict/fragile states.
The SCBT is probably the newest member of the SAG/77th Brigade–I can’t find any information on it (Or am I incorrect?) At the very most, I can find two LinkedIn profiles–here and here of serving person working in the SCBT. Judging by its name, the SCBT is not a PSYOPS unit and probably is, like the MSSG, concerned with stabilisation or conflict prevention. One wonders whether it compliments or duplicates the role of the MSSG. I do hope the MOD/British Army releases more information on the SCBT.
Well, that’s an overview and partly a review of the sub-units of the Security Assistance Group, or now the 77th Brigade. It is quite clear that only one of them is primarily dedicated towards Psychological Warfare and that they have the mission of stabilisation and upstream prevention in mind. More of this will be discussed in part 3.
To Be Continued.
USSOCOM similar units