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 Ministersā€™ 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.

Advertisements

The dawn of the Royal Navy UKCSG: Similarities with a USN CSG

As the media and social media focuses on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s progress and tries to find fault at turn, people tend to forget that Carrier Strike, or Carrier Enable Power Projection (CEPP), as the official title is known, does not just rest upon an aircraft carrier, or even that plus the expected aircraft. Standing back, CEPP is about a larger group, known in United States Navy (USN) terms as the ‘Carrier Strike Group (CSGs)’. In Royal Navy terms, it is similar; ‘UK Carrier Strike Group’, or just UKCSG.

Historically, there was a UKCSG or Carrier Task Group from around 2006 to 2011 (could be earlier; this information again is from the good Colin Mackie’s site, http://www.gulabin.com). This CSG disappeared when the Joint Harrier Force was retired under SDSR 2010 and the last Invincible-class aircraft carrier was decommissioned. Now, with CEPP as certain defence asset, the Royal Navy CSG has returned , possibly with a vengeance. (That FOIA by the way, was asked by yours truly). As the media has constantly noted, the USN, and the Marine Nationale, having been aiding the Royal Navy in reforming carrier operations. The USN is of course closer to its British counterpart, and therefore the RN is shaping their CSG. One should already note that the vast difference between the USN and the RN; the former has ten or eleven times (depending on the operational state) the number of CSGs compared to British counterpart. These USN CSGs range from Carrier Strike Group One to Twelve–numbers six and seven have been removed). The new RN CSG will be just one (unless somehow the Royal Navy can expand in terms of budget and personnel) and falls under the command of the 2-star Commander UK Maritime Fores although actual command authority varies for each operation. Below is an incomplete list of comparing the staff of the RN’s CSG versus a typical USN CSG.

COMCSG/COMUKCSG Appointment Holders vs USN CSG:

There is a Commander, UK Carrier Strike Group, a Royal Navy Commodore (a one/1-star), currently Commodore Andrew Betton. This is the same rank as all USN CSG commanders, abbreviated as CCSG, although it may be the case that the USN CCSG gets promoted to a Rear-Admiral (Upper Half) (2-star rank) part of the way through his or her command, see for example, then Rear-Admiral Nora Tyson’s promotion. A one-star COMUKCSG will nevertheless certainly placed him as almost equal to his USN counterparts and other task forces from other navies. It is also natural to make him equal to COMUKTG, or Commander UK Task Group. In the USN, a CCSG becomes the Composite Warfare Commander (CWC) in operations or battles. I’m not sure if this is the same terminology used by the RN, but it is quite so since they are close allies and NATO partners.

His (the Royal Navy’s) deputy is named as ‘Chief of staff‘, currently
Captain Ken Houlberg Captain Ken Houlberg or see this link. This again is an equal rank to the various US CSGs Chief of staff, see for example, CSG 5. In the USN, the Chief of Staff deputises for the COMCSG and most definitely has command over all operations. This is mostly likely the same responsibilities for his Royal Navy counterpart.

The RN CSG has a Strike Warfare Commander (STWC) currently Lt. Col Phil Kelly, a Royal Marine officer and a former FA-18E aviator. This position of STWC is synonymous with that of CAG (Carrier Air Group) Commander in the USN, that is the boss of the Air Wing. In the USN CSG, a CAG is designated as the Strike Warfare Commander again during operations, indicating another shared terminology with the USN. The USN’s CAG is always a Captain (OF-5), and this news article says Kelly is a full colonel. Yours truly made a FOIA request that confirmed yes, the established rank for the UKCSG SWC is OF-5 (Royal Marine Colonel or Royal Navy Captain). Again, same tile and same rank. The first main difference is that there won’t be a fixed air wing for the UK CSG; rather rather there will be tailored air group. Second, USN CSG CAGs have a deputy who is the same rank as them, see for example. I don’t think a Royal Navy CSG STWC has a deputy of the same rank, although it could be the case in the future.

Next to the STWC, there is a Information Warfare Commander (IWC), currently a Lieutenant Colonel Oli Coryton. Information warfare is relatively new but critical in this era cyber warfare. On a USN CSG, the IWC is a Captain or OF-5, see this link for an example, and he has a deputy, ranked at NATO OF-4 or US O-5. Clearly, his RN counterpart is one rank below him and again it is doubtful he has deputy. Nevertheless, it is great the RN has a IWC in its CSG and rank difference should not indicate a vast difference in capability.

So far, I’ve shown there are a Commander, a Chief of Staff, a Strike Warfare Commander and an Information Warfare Commander in the RN/UK CSG, mirroring that of its American counterpart. But these are the most publicised positions on the Royal Navy website, media and social media. The others require bit for internet (not just Googling!). There are:

A Group Logistics Officer, see this LinkedIn profile and also this news article. I guess the former is more senior, maybe a OF-4 (same rank as IWC) while the latter is is his deputy?

A Fixed Wing Operations Officer, listed as a Lieutenant. He or she may be the number two fixed wing operations officer or the most senior–it certainly isn’t clearly from the profile. Certainly has a USN counterpart.

A Helicopter Element Co-ordinator, last reported as also a Lieutenant. I think a Lieutenant is rather junior; perhaps she’s due for a promotion?

Alongside, there’s also a Helicopter Operations Officer, rank not specified. There’s definitely a equivalent officer or officers in the Helicopter Sea Combat and Maritime Strike squadrons in USN Carrier Air Wings. This old FAS article confirms there is, but not sure if that’s the current title in today’s USN CSG.

An Air Battlespace Manager, again his rank and established rank again not stated. There’s definitely a US CSG equivalent, but I haven’t been it not even to find the exact title, not even in this recent Composite Warfare Doctrine. Anyone?

Under this guy, there’s a Liaison or Leading Naval Officer (LNO) to the Joint Force Air Component Commander. Such a position is essential since the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers will often be operated with allies, certainly the US, in the Middle East.

A Plans Officer, see this LinkedIn profile. It doesn’t tell you what rank this position is, could be OF-2 or OF-3. I’m sure there’s an equivalent Plans Officer in the USN CSG and possible more than just one of them.

There is also a Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) Scientific Advisor(clearly see this profile. (Like Charlie in Top Gun; you do not salute him!). US CSGs may not have a direct scientist, but their carriers may or will have civilians, probably from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) or other US DOD scientific agency.

Who else? Well, in a US CSG, there’s definitely an Air and Missile Defense Commander (AMDC) in the USN CSG, usually the CO of the Ticonderoga-class cruiser for the CSG (more examples here and here). In the RN CSG. this role will most certainly go to the escorting Type 45 Destroyer, which ever one (other more than one?) is escorting the carrier. If it is a maximum of two Type 45s, well who ever is senior is the RN AMDC?

There are also a Surface Warfare Commander (SWC) and an Antisubmarine warfare commander (ASWC) or Under-sea warfare commander (UWC). Both these positions are commonly grouped under a Sea Combat Commander (SCC). In the case of the SCC or SWC & ASWC, these are all headed up by Commander of the Destroyer Squadron or DESRON. The Royal Navy at present and probably in the immediate future doesn’t have a dedicate DESRON for its CSG. The role of surface-strike and anti-submarine warfare would go to the commander of the Type 23/26 frigate(s) escorting the CSG, see for example HMS Richmond, HMS Westminster and for surface-strike HMS Montrose and HMS Iron Duke. Apparently, the USN DESRON CO works out of the US aircraft carrier due to better communications in its Combat Information Center. I wonder if the RN SWC equivalent will? Or is there a dedicated senior officer in the CSG for surface warfare or both?

USN CSG (well USN Ships and Commands) always have a Senior Enlisted Advisor in the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer, or Master Chief Petty Officer, NATO rank OR-8 and OR-9 (see CSG 10 for a Senior Chief as senior enlisted advisor while CSG 5’s senior enlisted advisor is a Master Chief. I’m doubtful whether the RN CSG has a WO1 (there are no OR-8s or WO2s in the future) as senior rating adviser. Or maybe there is. Time for asking a FOIA question?

There are definitely other smaller departmental heads or leaders in the RN CSG who correspond with their UN CSG counterparts but these are main ones that can be found. Yours truly made a FOIA request to ask about the full structure but clearly TPTB won’t want to give it away.

In any case, we can say that 1) Carrier Strike or CEPP isn’t just about an aircraft carrier than may have leaks or sprinkler problems during its first few years; 2) the Royal Navy is serious about getting its carrier into full carrier operations and it is not some “vanity project” as Professor Paul Rogers from Bradford called it; 3) the RN CSG staff is clearly modelled after a USN CSG even though it may not have the same assets (such as a E-2D or F/A-18 G Growler or structured DESRON). It will be certainly interesting how all these officers and other ranks in the Royal Navy Carrier Strike Group. work together during any deployments.

PS: I know it may seem like breaking PEREC listing names here but hey, these are LinkedIn profiles that reveal job positions, past and present and hey some of the names are stated in news articles and social media.

From SDSR 2010 to 2015: The “positives”

Well the Conservatives are in full power and they will dominate the decision making for the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). People of course will remember the Treasury-led 2010 SDSR which was more of a review to find monetary savings, not to instruct defence plans and to consider security threats. Inasmuch as it wasn’t really a review, the years after until 2015 saw several “positives” for UK defence assets and policies. Below is a (quite incomplete) list of UK defence procurement and initiatives that hae take place, due to the 2010 SDSR as well as the security threats subsequently.

Royal Navy/Royal Marines

* The creation of the annual COUGAR task force/the Response Force Task Group (RFTG)

See for example COUGAR 11

COUGAR 12

COUGAR 13

COUGAR 13

* The ordering of the four MARS Tankers (under the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA))

* The ordering of the Lynx Wildcat

* The ordering of the Sea Venom and Martlet missiles

* The planning of the Type 26 Frigate

* Bringing both QECs into active serivce.

* Arming up to 4 x Type 45 Destroyers will Harpoon ASuW missiles

British Army

* Forming Army 2020

* Bringing Herrick Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR)s into core

* SCOUT SV planning and contract

* The ordering of the Lynx Wildcat

Royal Air Force

* Planning and ordering of support aircraft such as the Voyager, A400M, Rivet Joint

* Typhoon enhancements

* Chinook JULIUS project

* The Taranis demonstrator/Unmanned Combat Aircraft (UCAV) project

Joint Forces

* The creation of Joint Forces Command (JFC)

DefenceĀ 

* Levene Reform (which resulted in the the creation of the JFC)

To be updated

The Merlin Mk2 Challenge

The Merlin Helicopter Fleet was was identified as one of the two main Naval Helicopter for the Royal Navy, the other being the Lynx Wildcat. The Merlin Mk2 in particular, would be the key anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter for the ASW-centric Royal Navy, an upgraded version of the Mk1. There however, is another role for the Merlin Mk2. It is to be used as a Airborne Early Warning (AEW)/Airborne Surveillance And Control (ASAC) aircraft. This after all is to replace the age-old Sea King Mk7 which have held the ASAC role for a long time since after the Falklands War.

All seems rather simple, but the challenge boils down to numbers. It was longed planned that only only 30 out of 38 Mk1s would be upgraded to the new Mk2 standard. Dividing that between ASW and AEW/ASAC roles, not forgetting there needs to be Merlins for the Type 23s/45s and training/operational conversion units, 30 is a rather low number. Then in May 2014, a report stated that another few Mk1s would be upgraded although the number was not stated. This report further revealed further details:

In the current fleet configuration, 25 Merlin Mk. 2s need to be available at readiness with five in maintenance. Of those 25, 14 will be dedicated to the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier (QEC) when that ship puts to sea as part of a task group, with aircraft configured for the ASW role and the airborne early warning mission, equipped with the radar system selected through the Crowsnest program.

That sounds much better for the future Royal Navy, particularly for the carrier-centred Response Force Task Group (RFTG)/COUGAR deployment. Even so, the numbers must be finalised to be more than 30 to make the Mk2 force credible. From the quote, 14 Mk2s will operate off the Queen-Elizabeth Class carrier, though this depends on the mission. This news release, particularly page 71, states that an adequate force would be 4 Merlins for ASW activities, and 4 for AEW/ASAC. It has been reported that only ten Crowsnest (see also this article ) radar sets would be purchased, and not all ten will probably be used. I would wage, as has others, that at the maximum eight (8) sets will be for AEW/ASAC duties, and the remainder for training/OCU.

It sounds nice to have more than 30 Merlin Mk2s but the number must be finalised soon. Stepping back, it’s all about the two carriers. If we have 14 Merlin Mk2s operational on one carrier but the other rotates, we need spare Mk2s to deploy on the next carrier when it relieves the second. Theoretically, there should be 14×2=28 Merlin Mk2s for rotation, though that would mean really stretching the Royal Navy’s budget. But let’s be conservative and have only four Merlin Mk2s (in rotation with the AEW/ASAC Merlins). That means exactly 34 Merlin Mk2s to be brought in service. There’s also the other eleven (11) Merlin Mk2s by the way. We know around five or six (5/6) will be for the small ship flights, 829 Naval Air Squadron (NAS). That leaves the other half for training/OCU or even rotation if the budget is tight and regretably, only 30 Merlin Mk2s will be around from 2015.

Another challenge is which helicopter squadrons will be around when the final numbers of Merlin Mk2s will be fixed. At present:

Merlin Squadrons:
814 NAS
820 NAS (both ASW Merlin Mk1/Mk2s based upon the assault ships/QECs/RFA ships
824 NAS (training/OCU “Parent” unit for the ASW Squadrons)
829 NAS (small ship flights for Type 23/26/35 frigates and destroyers)

Sea King Mk7 AEW/ASAC Squadrons:

849 NAS (training/OCU “Parent” unit for the AEW/ASAC Squadrons)
854 NAS (AEW/ASAC Squadron)
857 NAS (AEW/ASAC Squadrons)

Basing upon 30 Merlin Mk2s, 829 NAS will definitely survive, especially with the future Type 26 frigates with Sonar 2087. 849 NAS will survive until at leasr 2018, operating seven/7 Sea King Mk7. It will probably disband afterwards. Now with 30 Merlin Mk2s and 14 operational on a QEC, that would mean 1) at least one squadron on the QEC. This one squadron will govern all 14 Mk2s, but they be split amongst ASW, AEW/ASAC and Search and Rescue (SAR) duties (you need SAR for an aircraft carrier! Don’t just depend on your escorts). Or 2), two (2) Squadrons governing all 14 Merlin Mk2s on the carrier, meaning one squadron for ASW, one for AEW/ASAC.

As stated, there should (logically) be rotating Merlin Squadrons (one/two back at a Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) and those on the QEC so that as the carriers rotate, the flight personnel and helicopters do as well. Looking at the picture, since ASW is the bigger component on a QEC (but not more critical), 814 and 820 NAS both should survive post 2015/2020 so that they rotate between each carrier. If option 2) occurs, that would mean 845 and 857 NAS will survive, or one of the NAS will survive but will be double manned (like part of 815 NAS). Not forgetting the 5 or 6 NAS remaining from the 25-14-5/6. Those will either be training/OCU or even a Test and Evaluation Squadron. So either 824 or 849 NAS will survive, but not both.

All this is of course guesswork. But bottom line is that there must be more than 30 Merlin Mk2s in the future and enough NAS squadrons to make both carriers worthwhile.

Update: Well, the Royal Navy has revealed some part of it. 849 NAS, the OCU for the Sea King Mk.7 ASAC/AEW will be the one and only ASAC squadron after 2018, and turn into a front line squadron. It will have three flights of possible six Merlin Mk2s will the Crowsnest technology (logical guess.). Two of the flights are drawn from the two current frontline ASAC/AEW squadrons, 854 and 857 NAS. They will be named “Normandy Flight” and “Palembang Flight” respectively. 857 NAS will disband in 2015 and 854 later. See this link. Sad case for only one ASAC/AEW Squadron but good confirmation.