So in a pre-“Trident Debate” mode let me say…

1) The whole debate is about replacing the ballistic missile submarines (officially the SSBNs). Not the Trident D5 missiles (whose name is incorrectly used to describe the whole system), not the nuclear warheads, which are the ones which cause the devastation. Read this House of Commons research report. Another simple to read document is this one, yet another MOD publication

2) No one and no organisation (including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the Scottish National Party (SNP), the anti-“Trident” Labour Party members including Jeremy Corbyn) have come up with a sensible idea what to do if the vote falls against the motion. No one has said how to properly scrap the not-even-completed-Successor-class submarines, how to quickly retrain specialised skilled workers, what to do with the Royal Navy submariners destined for these submarines, the support personnel, the civilians who support these personnel, their families. Then what to do with HMND Clyde which is prepared or is preparing to house these submarines.

3) People forget (and in relation to point 1)) that even if the vote doesn’t go in favour, it does not mean the UK’s nuclear weapons are gone. With the vote just about replacing the SSBNs, the missiles (yeah of course they are American-made but British-leased) will still be there. The nuclear warheads will still be there. Again, in relation to point 2, no one has created an idea how to dismantle all of them safely and quickly without thinking about the astronomical cost. At the most, the Yanks (heh) will take back the missiles, AWE will have to prove they can dismantle the warheads (such cost still paid by the British (not just Scottish) taxpayer) and their whole company.

4) A removal of the submarines and then maybe the whole infrastructure (which the vote again is not about) WILL NOT reduce global nuclear weapons or create a spark for nuclear weapons reduction. The response will likely be: US (and France) will increase their warheads or delivery systems to match the loss of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Or Russia and China may also join the “replace the short fall” race. Or regional, non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear powers would increase their stockpile.

5) With the lack of any current feasible anti-ballistic missile defence (BMD) system, a total removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent would be the UK has no option should there be a nuclear threat (however so unlikely) or WMD or non-WMD missiles launched at British territories or interests. Of course, using a nuclear response to a non-nuclear attack has always been ruled out by British governments. However, the total removal of its deterrent means the door will be really open for threats. Can diplomacy and conventional forces subdue the threats?

6) The UK is a puny nuclear deterrent nation. The US has its triad (Bombers, ICBMs and SSBNs with SLBMs and tactical nuclear weapons–eek!), the French has two modes of delivery (SSBNs and via fighters (Rafales) launched by land or via their single aircraft carrier). The Russians have a less updated (maybe) triad which is being modernised. China (PRC) has some sort of triad. And then there are regional nuclear powers as mentioned in point 4. So a removal will mean a removal of the puniest nuclear weapons state.

7) The issue therefore is not about the Successor-class submarines or system of delivery but about reducing what is the real WMD–the warheads. At around 120 operationally available warheads and a stockpile of around 225 warheads, it is argued by pro-“Trident” pundits that is enough or not enough. I say there can be a slow phased reduction but simultaneously, there must be harder or more efforts placed on multilateral non-nuclear proliferation. The UK is right to maintain a minimum deterrent but not correct is being arrogant about it.

8) As the information charts say, this nuclear deterrent has never been set out to deter conventional, state or non-state based threats including terrorism. Yes, each terrorist or non-nuclear attack every day makes it hard to believe that the UK needs a deterrent. I bet the submariners, no some of them, are thinking, what the hell am I doing when London was attacked on 7 July 2005, or the latest Nice attacks. Or what’s happening in Syria. But again, don’t shut down all your electrical goods because you want to save energy. That’s too extreme….

9) Continuous-at-sea-deterrent (CASD) does play another crucial role besides (attempting) to deter nuclear threats from state powers. It helps train submariners, from the chef to the captain, on submarine-based procedures. It’s not your holiday cruise but a military activity where crew members do get their “Dolphins”. Removing their vessels or boats means less ability to train them.

10) Back to point 2. What’s going to replace the SSBNs? There’s no such thing as money immediately going back to the government’s “bank” because you still need to spend it on dismantling the submarines and their infrastructure (as I pointed out), and probably more billions in safely removed the whole system. By then, would you expect government to say, hey, here are savings for the NHS and non-military means? Or military stuff?

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?

The Royal Tank Regiment: Back in the CBRN game

NB: An edited version was published here: http://www.defenceviewpoints.co.uk/defence-news/british-armys-cbrn-capability . I thank defenceviewpoints for publishing the article.

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review mentioned a clear role for the/a Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear (CBRN) unit as part of the future high readiness force. Yet, on one of the lesser known impacts of this SDSR was that the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear Regiment (not the best link, do search the archive yourselves) would cease to be a joint unit. Instead, the 1st Royal Tank Regiment would transfer all CBRN authority/work/equipment to the Royal Air Force, specifically the RAF Regiment’s 27 Squadron. This was formally announced by the Royal Tank Regiment on 05 August 2011 and in the 2011 CBRN newsletter.

Personally, there is nothing wrong with shifting the CBRN role from a joint Army-RAF unit to just a RAF unit (27 Squadron is actually backed up by a RAF Reserve Regiment, 2623 (East Anglian). Together, they make up the “Defence CBRN Wing”, or 20 Wing RAF Regiment.) After all, 1 RTR was slated to merge with 2 RTR under the Army 2020 plan. It could be argued that this transfer out removed the key vehicle for CBRN, Fuchs, as seen in this House of Commons Written Question by MP Angus Robertson (Robertson loves to ask a heck load of defence-related questions as compared to front bench shadow ministers!) That would mean despite having the CBRN Wing, the CBRN capability might be reduced–one wonders which vehicles the wing used/uses now. However, Fuchs or no Fuchs, CBRN wasn’t exactly removed from the British Armed Forces, as so idiotic blogger suggested.

Fast forward to 2013/2014. The Royal Tank Regiment became the full RTR in August 2014. But before then, the Colonel-in-Chief issued this statement about the RTR’s structure:

We have therefore decided that, upon amalgamation, the three armoured squadrons in the Royal Tank Regiment will be known as AJAX, BADGER, and CYCLOPS. Command and Reconnaissance Squadron will be known as DREADNAUGHT, and Headquarters Squadron will be known as EGYPT. Should there be a future CBRN Area Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AS&R) Squadron, it will be known as FALCON…Finally, I should take this opportunity to say something about the formation of the CBRN AS&R squadron. As I write this message, there is a strong possibility that the RTR will be invited to generate an additional squadron to meet this task, over and above our Type 56 Armoured Regiment role. But the Defence Board has not yet made a final decision, so the task may yet fail to materialise, or (less likely) could be given to some other unit to perform. I have been involved in a host of high levels discussions about this task, both as your Colonel Commandant and as a member of the Army Command Group. My position throughout has been that the Army and Defence need an AS&R capability, that the RTR has demonstrated the ability to provide it, and that we stand ready to do so again. My one proviso has been to say that it would not be sensible to double-hat this capability with that of an armoured sub-unit: it needs to be a squadron in its own right. Hopefully, we will know the outcome on this issue within the next few months.

(see the full news article.)

And then came another House of Commons Written Question, this time by MP Nicholas Soames. Minister Mark Francois replied with a hint:

Under the Army 2020 structure, the Royal Armoured Corps will be formed of 10 Regular Regiments made up of three Armoured Regiments, three Armoured Cavalry Regiments and three Light Cavalry Regiments with the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment continuing to support public duties and ceremonial commitments; four Reserve Regiments and one independent Regular squadron providing a Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Area, Survey and Reconnaissance capability.

(see the full parliamentary reply.)

And true enough to the above statements, the British Army news release (above) stated that the new RTR would consist of “three Main Battle Tank squadrons (AJAX, BADGER, CYCLOPS), a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Area Survey and Reconnaissance squadron (FALCON), a Command and Reconnaissance squadron (DREADNAUGHT) and a Support squadron (EGYPT).” So in effect, the CBRN role is back under the British Army’s control again.

Several questions still remain. First, will this squadron be joined back with the RAF CBRN Wing or remain separate? The news release states that the RTR will be under “part of 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade and 8 Engineer Brigade.” We know from the old Army 2020 orbat that the RTR will be under 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade. But the report stated “8 Engineer Brigade”, a Force Troops Command unit. Could FALCON squadron be under 8 Engineer Brigade, and which unit specifically? Second, what vehicle(s) will FALCON squadron use? A quick search reveals that actually the Fuchs vehicle is “back”, unlike what then Minister Peter Luff said. So could they be back on Fuchs? The Fuchs vehicle is ageing and will need a replacement. Perhaps a version of the SCOUT SV/PMRS? Third, and back to structures, how will FALCON squadron operate? Will it be part of the capacity building part of Army 2020? Will it remain under Land Command or come under Joint Forces Command? These questions still linger as we welcome the RTR back into the CBRN game.

Note: To correct the silly mainstream media reports, the British Army is NOT “reduced to a single tank regiment” (I dont want to hyperlink the media sites) Army 2020 plans (see my ORBAT or the British Army Orbat), states that there will be 3 Type 56 Challenger 2 Regiments–The Royal Tank Regiment (as above), the Queens Royal Hussars and the King’s Royal Hussars. These will be backed up by a single Yeomanry regiment (Army Reserve), the Royal Wessex Yeomanry. Understand this!