What you will likely and may not get from SDSR 2015

I never like rumours or hearsay but I guess it’s not harm jumping on the pre-Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015 bandwagon.

What will likely be mentioned (in terms of Strategy and Security):

Strategy:

* Government will mean 2% of Gross National Product/Income (GDP/GDNI) of spending on defence.
* Budget (for maybe just equipment) will rise to rise in real terms – 0.5% above inflation – every year during the Parliament (as stated previously in the July 2015 Budget statement )
* NATO will be the core alliance the UK will work with for eternity (or for the super long term), not the European Union (EU)
* Government will also mean the (oudated) Official Development Assistance aka foreign aid target of 0.7% of GDP.
* Focus will be on core areas such as the Middle East (Daesh/ISIS/ISIL), Africa (North and Central)
* Falklands Garrison will stay with no immediate change
* US will be the main strategic ally
* Lancaster House treaty will continue
* Focus will be on value for money–efficiency savings as MOD budget is not ringfenced–but value for strong output
*Linking to above, people such as the Reserves will play a core role in Future Force 2020

In terms of armed forces:

Royal Navy:

* 2 Queen Elizabeth-Class aircraft carriers will be built
* The Type 26 Global Combat Ship/frigate will be built
* 4 x Successor Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear) (SSBNs) will be built to retain the UK’s strategic deterrent.
* 7 x Astute Ship Submersible Nuclear (SSN) Astute-Class boats
* 3 x River-Class Batch 2 Patrol Boats (likely to replace the older 3 Batch 1 boats)
* The Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) will be considered to replace current Mine-countermeasure vessels
* Merlin and Wildcat numbers will remain
* The Response Force Task Group (RFTG) annual COUGAR deployments will continue, with either Queen Elizabeth-Class carrier joining the RFTG post-2020.
* Unmanned aircraft, surface craft (USV) and undersea craft (UUV) will form the main R&D projects in the future Royal Navy

British Army:

* Army 2020 will continue with some unit changes and some units changing barracks. All units in Germany will return to the UK.
* Ajax (formerly SCOUT SV) production and numbers will continue and stay the same.
* Warrior upgrades aka Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP) will continue, except that only 245 of them will receive the CTA 40mm gun/cannon (see this article). That is, not all of the six Army 2020 armoured infantry vehicles will gain the new gun/cannon
* Money will be set aside for the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (former Utility Vehicle, former FRES UV) and the Multi-Role Vehicle-Protected (MRV-P) programmes.
* 50 Apaches will be upgraded to the E version.

Royal Air Force:

* 20 new “Protector” Remotely-Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) will be acquired, a double of the existing number. Basically, updated version of the MQ-9 Reaper.
* F-35Bs will be purchased.
* Trance 1 (T1) Typhoons will be retained to create additional Typhoon Squadrons for UK Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). Tranche 2 and 3 aircraft will thus be free for air-to-ground operations (that is, Operation Shader) (see this link)
* Sentinel R1 aircraft will be replaced.
* Other Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft to be upgraded, except the E-3s.

Joint Forces:

* The range of UK Special Forces will gain new equipment.See this news article
* There will be a Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA), not just a new Maritime Patrol aircraft. (see again this link
* Cyber defences will be strengthened, and the Joint Cyber Reserve will be a key part of this.
* The 77th Brigade (I put this under Joint since it consider of personnel from all services and civilians from other ministerial departments join it) will be a create part of soft power or mechanisms to stabilise or prevent conflict.

These are some of the top issues and assets you may get from SDSR 2015. What you MAY NOT GET or MOST LIKELY WON’T GET:

Strategy:

* Government will not have spare cash or large amount of spare cash to boost the Defence budget beyond 2% of GDP. It may gain funds from the Treasury Reserve, the Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). The MOD may not have enough money to contribute to the Deployed Military Activity Pool (DMAP), which is a contingency fund within the CSSF, used to support the UK’s emerging in-year security, diplomatic and aid priorities.
* The UK may not, and has not recently been, the second highly country with the largest number of deployed troops in NATO. This level will unlikely be an issue in SDSR 2015.
* The UK will have to depend largely on the US and France should it find itself in a Iraq (Gulf War I mean) or Afghanistan-style conflict. Daesh seems to creating one. SDSR 2015 may not throw in money or personnel into this.
* Personnel shortages may be addressed but not solved in the short or long-term. It would mean lots of equipment without people to operate. More below.
* Chasing targets like 2% and 0.7% would be lots of changing goalposts and a fixation on money not quality. No change in SDSR 2015 for sure.

In terms of armed forces:

Royal Navy:

* SDSR 2015 will not increase personnel strength so that both carriers will operate simultaneously. In fact, snippets indicate that only 450 more sailors will be added to the Royal Navy’s strength. It might mean that HMS Queen Elizabeth won’t operate at full strength, even minus air group. One carrier at all times will most definitely be in port aka extended readiness.
* There will be no definitely confirmation that 13 Type 26 frigates will be ordered. Mybe there could be, but in “drips and draps”.
* There might be, as there always has been, delays to the Astute SSNs boats coming into service. Same with the never to be used Successor SSBNs.
* HMS Ocean may not or never be replaced as a like-for-like. The Royal Navy will have to depend on an aircraft carrier as a strike carrier and a LPH.
* The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) eldery ships may not be replaced like-for-like.
* The Royal Navy may only end up with the 3 new River-Class Batch 2 ships and HMS Clyde with the Batch 1 ships decommissioned early.
* The MHC project may be delayed.
* Not change in the Merlin HM2/MK2 numbers, so not enough for ASAC and carrier-based ASW roles.
* 809 NAS may have more RAF pilots than Fleet Air Arm (FAA) pilots

British Army:

* No change to Army 2020 in terms of units and personnel. Big adverse implications for units and the Special Forces–see below.
* There may be some removal of 2*s aka Major-Generals or even 1*s Brgadiers who don’t command units. But the Army may still be top-heavy.
* Army Command will change–Deputy CGGS and Commander Personnel Support Command, but that means more money for top commanders not units.
* Challenger 2 will be updated but may not improved or replaced anytime soon unlike this report. So this report is more likely.
* MIV and MRV-P may not appear in the short term.
* No change in CTA turrets or guns/cannon numbers.

Royal Air Force:

* No large order of F-35B aircraft. The orders may likely be in “drips and draps”.
* AMRAAMs may be kept in the long term and there may not be larger numbers of Meteor missile produced or ordered.
* As noted above, there may not be upgrades for all UK ISTAR aircraft or C2 aircraft such as the E-3 which is critical for QRA an operations.
* RAF may end up with more aircraft and still not solving its manpower shortage. This might affect not just the manned aircraft but the 20 new Protectors.

Joint Forces:

* The MMA or at least MPA will not be the highly expensive yet operational P-8 Poseidon. The yet unknown aircraft may not appear in the short term (say 2-4 years) after it is announced.
* The Joint Cyber Reserve may not likely become a full cyber unit despite cyber threats being a Tier 1 threat as identity in the 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS).
* Special Forces will et their new equipment but with the shrunken Army 2020 and Future Force 2020, the various SF units may not be at full strength.

So there you have it folks!!! We wait the announcement around 1530 UK time 23 November 2015.

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My take on Maria Eagle’s speech at the 2015 Labour Conference

With all the “hope and change” arising from dear beard-man (oops!) I mean Jeremy’s Corbyn’s leadership, I thought I’ll do quick critical review of Maria Eaagle’s speech on defence to the 2015 Labour Party Conference. My comments are in brackets and bold.

Conference,

Politics is changing. Since we lost the General Election, we have increased our membership by 164,000. (Hopefully many are related to the British Armed Forces or Defence. Maybe not.)

Our new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is inspiring a new generation of members of our Party – people who had not thought politics was for them – but who now want to help us to change our society for the better.

I am honoured to have been asked by Jeremy to be the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence and I was proud to accept the job because the defence of our Country and its people is the first duty of any Government. (Sure you are, given your “experience” in the subject matter.)

And it must be taken equally seriously by any Party that seeks to govern.

I want to take this – my first opportunity – to thank and congratulate our magnificent British servicemen and women for the work that they do.

All around the world. Keeping us safe. Putting themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.

They do this despite the redundancies, the real terms cut to pay, pensions and allowances imposed on them by the Tories since 2010.

They are truly amongst our very finest and most dedicated public servants. (Blah, Blah, Blah, same old lines for years.)

And this Party will always acknowledge that and seek to look after them. After all, most recruits to the armed forces come from our Labour heartlands.(Really? So what did your party do to them from 2003 to 2010?)

I will use my new role as Chair of Labour Friends of the Forces, to help to strengthen and deepen the understanding between the Labour Party and our forces community. (As if your predecessors didn’t or failed to do.)

Just a day or two after my appointment, I had the opportunity to meet some of the 1000 servicemen and women who served in Sierra Leone tackling the Ebola epidemic.

At no small risk to themselves, they helped to defeat that scourge – a fantastic humanitarian achievement.

They also left behind six treatment centres and 4,000 trained local staff. (Actually, it is a combined effort of NHS, DFID and NGOs. Stop saying you did something by clapping for them.)

To help enable that nation to tackle and prevent any further outbreaks of contagious disease.

And the work that they did in West Africa helped keep us safe here at home also by ensuring the epidemic never reached our shores.

They have done a brilliant job.

I would also like to congratulate and thank all those service personnel on HMS Bulwark and HMS Enterprise.

To date, they have saved 5,577 desperate people fleeing persecution and war who would otherwise have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. (Under David Cameron’s/Michael Fallon’s orders, not yours.)

The Royal Navy continues to contribute, with our EU partners to this vital work and we support it fully.

Conference,

Since we last met, our combat troops have left Afghanistan.

454 of them have lost their lives since 2001.

We acknowledge their sacrifice.

The security they have helped to provide has brought social progress to that country.

There are now six million children safely able to attend school in Afghanistan, two million of them girls. They are the future of their country and the more of them who are in education, the better. (As with Operation Gritrock, this was not performed by the British Armed Forces alone.)

Conference,

Our Nation’s defence has never been more important than it is now in an increasingly interconnected, unpredictable and dangerous world.
Where threats, new and re-emerging, come at us thick and fast. (Is that why your leader campaigned to stop wars and get out of NATO?)

Five years ago who would have anticipated the barbarism of ISIL/Daesh? Or the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia? (Certainly not the Labour Party or Jeremy Corbyn.)

Certainly the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review did not.
It was a rushed, short sighted, Tory, Treasury-led cuts exercise giving us, amongst other things, a plan for aircraft carriers with no aircraft. (I wonder again, would Labour government have performed a better review???)

Our Country and our armed forces cannot afford a similarly poor effort from the Government in 2015.

Anticipating future threats is a difficult job though Conference. (Duh, so why aren’t you giving some ideas instead of swiping at the Tories?)
Who would have anticipated the millions of people fleeing conflict, drought and oppression in the Middle East – reminiscent of scenes we thought belonged to the history books? (Not you, not Jeremy Corbyn.)

It is the job of Government and those who aspire to govern, to ensure that Britain is ready and able to deal with any threat that arises and to be a force for good in the world.

And this fits in with our values as a Party. We believe in International cooperation, social justice and providing humanitarian assistance. (So why the campaign to aggressively remove the nuclear deterrent without spending on conventional weapons, why the hatred of the British Armed Forces, why the hatred of NATO?)

Britain is an outgoing nation fully engaged in the World.

We remain the only country to be a member of NATO, the EU, the UN Security Council, G7, G20 and the Commonwealth. (Great, you dear leader DID NOT like them at all!!!)

We have a unique opportunity and a great responsibility to use our position in the world to help solve problems, not turn our backs on them. (But, I read your fellow frontbencher Diane Abott doesn’t want intervention in Syria!)

We should not spurn that opportunity. We should not shirk that responsibility.

And we must ensure our people are safe here at home.
Our security services have warned that terrorist plotting against Britain is at its most intense for three decades – with six attempts foiled in the past 12 months

The collapse in stability and governance in the Middle East and North Africa has left a vacuum for extremists who seek to attack us at home and abroad.(But your party wants to let “refugees” in.)

The ongoing civil war and chaos in Syria has created space for ISIL/Daesh to unleash horrific atrocities on innocent people.

Britain cannot solve these problems alone. But Britain must not turn its back on the world. (So why did Jeremy Corbyn call to withdraw from NATO?)

This is the context for our deliberations about Britain’s role in the world and the defence capabilities we need, in conjunction with our allies and partners in playing that role.

For decades our policy has been that the UK should have responsive, high-tech armed forces with the capability to respond to emerging threats.

And it has been our position for decades too that Britain needs a credible independent nuclear deterrent while taking a lead internationally to push for a world without nuclear weapons. Labour in Government reduced the numbers of nuclear warheads and gave up our free fall nuclear bomb option – as part of multilateral disarmament efforts. (As Iceman said: Bullshit. Michael Foot didn’t. Jeremy Corbyn then and now did not.)

I know that some people have always disagreed that Britain should have an independent nuclear deterrent. (Right, many in your front bench.)

But we all agree that more must be done to rid the world of nuclear weapons. (Yes, how?)

I recognise and respect the different views in our party on the future of our nuclear deterrent.

Jeremy knew that I disagreed with him about this when he appointed me. And he still asked me to do the job. (Wonderful! Prepare to be kicked out of the role soon.)

At the last election, we were committed to having a much more transparent and public facing debate about our place in the world and how best we should fulfil it. (Really? So whose manifesto are you following? Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn?)

Jeremy Corbyn has asked me to facilitate such a debate. (Really?!)

And I will do that. (With Jeremy pulling string no doubt.)

In sharp contrast to the Government’s SDSR consultation, where responses were limited to 300 words, it will be a debate that all of our members will be able to take part in. (Madame, this has been removed. And again, so far, you HAVE NOT provided any counter ideas.)

It will involve our trades union affiliates as well, some of whom represent:

The 40,000 people who work in the defence industries in Scotland,

The 7,500 who work in our submarine manufacturing industry

The 850 companies in the supply chain for the planned Vanguard successor submarines – all offering highly skilled jobs and apprenticeships.

For they have a legitimate interest in our deliberations also.
And it will be a debate that must also involve the British people – for these issues are amongst the most important that any politician ever has to consider. (Ahem!!! The government is doing just that. You’re quite late in the race!)

There is an appetite out there, in our Party and beyond, for real issues of substance to be discussed openly in politics, rather than be decided just by Ministers in Government, behind closed doors or politicians in Parliament, subject to a Party whip.

We’re seeing it surface in other political parties as well as our own.
Our debate is starting at this Conference.

It is right that Britain’s place in the world should be at the centre of these deliberations.

And Conference, I will make sure that it is. (Sure. So far you have said NOTHING noteworthy or of substance. A speech that won’t pass as an academic essay.)

***
PS: I’m too critical but this is what the people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn get.

Is there anything wrong with embedded or exchange pilots?

Yesterday 20th July 2015, Michael Fallon released a written statement that furthered expanded upon a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request about UK personnel serving in other armed forces that have engaged targets in Syria. Later on, Fallon was “skewered” by man anti-war MPs, saying that he had hidden information from and lied to the UK Parliament and some calling for him to step down. (See full debate here .)

The big question is: Should UK troops embedded in foreign/allied armed forces be engaged in active operations which the UK parliament, specifically the House of Commons, has not approved? Fallon’s argument is that “Embedded UK
personnel operate as if they were the host nation’s personnel, under that nation’s chain of
command, but remain subject to UK domestic, international and Host Nation law.” This means there are legal guidelines when personnel are embedded in other militaries. The stronger argument is that:

The convention that before troops are committed to military operations the House of Commons
should have an opportunity to debate the matter, except in the event of an emergency, applies to
the deployment of UK forces. UK personnel embedded within other nations’ armed forces operate
as members of that military
.(Emphasis added)

So when UK personnel are embedded or on exchange, they are effectively controlled by those external armed forces. They get to perform what those armed forces conduct, and in this case, operations over Syria. They, as Fallon and this pompous ass Major state, are subjected to UK law and the law of the host nation they are under. So if they strike the wrong target or inflict civilian casualties, they can get charged under two different laws. But the bottom line is, they are effectively under external command and control. Repeat, external or foreign command and control.

The Shadow Secretary of Secretary of State, Vernon Coaker, argued that yes it is common practice to embed UK forces to other forces. However:

British troops embedded with US forces at the time of the Vietnam war were not allowed to take part. Similarly, Dutch marines embedded with the Royal Marines were brought home before the 2003 Iraq war, and US troops embedded with the British Army were not permitted to patrol the streets of Northern Ireland.

That is a sound counter argument, and Coaker stated the worst case scenario: What if one of those pilots was shot down and captured by Daesh/ISIL forces. Fallon countered with the slightly weak argument that the UK has supported the US action in Syria,Operation Inherent Resolve, from the start. He didn’t specifically address the part about the possibility about being captured and killed. Let me try to address that. First, it is a stated possibility. Yes a poor Jordanian pilot was treated in that manner, however, that is only one example. No US, French or Canadian forces have been shot down by Daesh or Syrian air defences. In fact, the US has been careful to only strike at Daesh-controlled areas and have indirectly communicated with the Syrians, via the UN on US strikes in that country. On top of that, the US has used advanced support and combat aircraft such as the F-22 to prevent any shooting down of aircaft. So there have been safety measures in place for US, French, Canadian or UK exchange pilots. It’s not some crazy “yee-haw” for any of them.

Second, all military personnel, whether just British or on exchange, always face threats. Daesh is a vicious organisation. Well, so were many other state and non-state groups. Fallon stated quite correctly that UK troops hasve served with other armed forces since the 1950s. That means for more than sixty years, UK personnel have faced threats when on exchange. In any case, you join the armed forces knowing there’s a risk, not joining it to serve away from hostilities.

Third, as Fallon and some supporters of this move have said, embedding UK troops assist with military knowlege and boost understanding of other countries’ capabilities. As a former solder now MP Jonhnny Mercer remarked,

When I was serving, one of the most frustrating things was an almost uninformed debate about our military action. Does my right hon. Friend agree that questions about embeds, and asking special forces capabilities to be raised on the Floor of the House of Commons, belie a fundamental misunderstanding of how our forces operate, and that in interoperability it is vital we have embeds to ensure we take part in the international fight against terrorism?(Emphasis added).

Therefore, it is a gain for the British Armed Fores to have such exchange. The constant counter-argument of the House of Commons did not authorise it and this breaks the Ministerial code only works to a weak extent. People forget that there’s such thing as the Royal Prerogative, which enable decisions to be taken without the backing of, or consultation with, Parliament. (There are better links that explain the Royal Prerogative for the UK, just google it.). The government of the day, Conservative, Labour or Coalition, need not inform the Houses of Parliament on every move they make in international affairs.

A further argument is that there is already UK direct and indirect participation in strikes against Syria. HMS Duncan is helping defend the present USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, as it it predecessors HMS Defender and HMS Dauntless. There are, (not publically stated but known) UK Special Forces such as the Special Air Service or Special Boat Service operating around Syria, and possibly even the Special Forces Support Group (SFSG). As known, Special Forces operations, at least in the UK, are never officially broadcast and will never need parliamentary approval. Given such activity, why fret over personal on exchange?

Let it also be known (as through Fallon’s statement and parliamentary debate) that such exchange runs both ways, that is, personnel from other countries join UK units on operations. A clear example is the Baltic Air Policing, where a US Marine Corps fastjet pilot and a French Air Force pilot ere on exchange with the Royal Air Force (RAF), flying Eurofighter Typhoons. Their parliamentarians didn’t scream that they were notified, did they?

Personal go on exchange all the time for decades. Some people even served in other forces long before this practice was formalised. A clear example is that of the American pilots who served in the RAF during the Battle of Britain . They ran the risk of being punished by their own country. Coming back to the present and the argument, RAF personnel are on the Maritime Patrol Aircraft training programme Seedcorn in the US, Canada and even New Zealand. Parliament knows this. Would UK MPs try to stop them from serving?