Women in close combat for the British Armed Forces, approved but questions remain

So the Chief of the General Staff (and possible all service chiefs, the vice chief and chief of the defence staff), along with current Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and soon to step down PM David Cameron lifted the ban of women fighting in close combat in the British Armed Forces. Ex-only-Colonel Richard Justin Kemp must be blowing his top right now.

The arguments for and against aside, it is pretty peculiar that the “test bed” for females/women (possibly even transgender ladies) is the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) and then other regiments/units. The actual quote is

This will begin by allowing women to serve in all roles within certain units of the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) from November 2016. This will be reviewed after six months before being expanded to other units of the RAC…n addition to the RAC, the change in rules will eventually apply to roles in the Infantry, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force Regiment which will be opened up to women by the end of 2018.

Exactly which units of the RAC is the missing information. Maybe the new Ajax Regiments (currently operating CVRT Scimitar?) And why the RAC? Are they the most armoured regiment to protect the dear girls?

Questions remain. You can’t just use scientific data.

He’s hooked you: The Hookham Ripley P-8 scare

No it’s not an April Fools Joke though if you read carefully it could be one. The article “MOD sinks £2bn sub-hunter jet deal” the Sunday Times 1 November 2015 written by Mark Hookham and Tim Ripley tried to cast more doom and gloom on the future of the UK’s Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA). I paste the article below, since the Sunday Times likes to earn money for any of its factual or non-factual articles.

THE Ministry of Defence is understood to have dropped a £2bn plan to buy a fleet of US-made submarine-hunting jets for the RAF.

 

The proposed purchase of up to nine P-8 Poseidon aircraft was expected to be the centrepiece of the government’s forthcoming defence review, but sources say the project has been shelved after ministers decided the aircraft were “fiendishly expensive”.

 

The move has raised fears that Britain’s four Vanguard nuclear deterrent submarines and the navy’s new £6bn aircraft carriers could be inadequately protected.

Senior retired RAF officers argued earlier this year that Britain’s nuclear deterrent has been left vulnerable after plans to update a fleet of Nimrod submarine-hunting aircraft were axed in 2010.

 

The defence review, due to be published later this month, was widely expected to announce a replacement for the Nimrod, with Boeing’s P-8, which carries torpedoes, depth charges and anti-ship missiles, regarded as the frontrunner.

Sources said Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, has ordered a rethink after receiving costs from Boeing. Each P-8, a modified 737 airliner, is thought to cost about £100m. It is understood that Fallon was also concerned that the deal would involve few UK firms.

 

One senior industry source questioned the decision: “The public need to recognise that we have a resurgent Russia. We are an island nation and we have two new carriers about to come into service. What’s going to protect them for the next five years? There is nothing else out there that can do it.”

 

It is believed Fallon hopes to fill the “capability gap” with a cheaper “interim solution”, possibly by installing anti-submarine warfare equipment into C-130J Hercules transport aircraft or Spanish-made C295s. In the longer term he is believed to want to review new submarine hunting technology and drones.

 

Andrew Brookes, a retired wing commander, said: “If you are in the business of power projection with our new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers then you need support assets, like maritime patrol aircraft, that can operate at long range from shore bases. CASA 295s and C-130s can’t do that – they are the poor man’s plan B.”

 

The MoD said it “continues to assess future requirements www….no decisions have been taken”.

On the surface, ST readers (if you bought to buy the paper or subscribe) would immediately think, this government sucks, it is weak on defence, this is SDSR 2010 all over again….

Reader deeper the article is riddled with factual errors and more importantly, is more a rumour than a actual news. First, “The proposed purchase of up to nine P-8 Poseidon aircraft” has not been stated anywhere else but this news article. Not in military news sites, not in other defence related newspapers or newsites at all. Second, this sentence, “The move has raised fears that Britain’s four Vanguard nuclear deterrent submarines and the navy’s new £6bn aircraft carriers could be inadequately protected” is slightly inaccurate. Since when do carrier strike groups, Royal Navy or allied, sail with MPAs overhead all the way? That sucks up lots of fuel and pilot time–the MPA most certainly cannot follow the carrier task force every where. Second, while MPAs assist submarines, they should not always flight out everytime a UK SSBN sails out. By gosh, all the aviation geeks and plan spotters would then be able to tell the SSBN sail patterns and timings!!!

Another fault lies in these phrases “Senior retired RAF officers”, One senior industry source” and “Sources said Michael Fallon”. Which sources are these? Are they people or companies directly linked to the future MPA project or just some small level official you got drunk? Who do they represent? How could they have spoken to two reporters, bearing in mind that this is defence and the MOD, not some circus company. More of this later.

Yet another mistake lies in line “The defence review, due to be published later this month”. Exactly how can the reporters know for sure that the 2015 SDSR will be published in November? Are they sources credible? Also look at the glaring typo “The MoD said it “continues to assess future requirements www….no decisions have been taken”.

The only credible source is the named source retired RAF officer, Andrew Brookes. Still he is just a Wing Commander, not even an Air Commodore or senior rank. And how much can one retired officer know about the future MPA.

Bottom line: The article lacks credibility due to its mistakes and dubious sources. It could just be churned up by Hookham and Ripley taking a MOD clerk or retired MOD low-level staffer to drinks and use him or her as a source. As I pointed out, if the P-8 is being dumped, why haven’t IHS Janes, Defensenews, Breakingdefence or any or credible military news site reported the same topic? Why hasn’t this been reported on the defence section of the Telegraph, a newspaper oriented towards defence? Or even major newsites for that matter?

Second, who ever said the P-8 is the only MPA the UK should chose? What about the others, some which are mentioned in the project? Why always buy American? Why splurge money on one damn expensive airframe when you dont have sufficient capability in other areas?

So please Hookham (mainly him not Tim Ripley), stop your scare warmongering.

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 all-blue UK National Security Council

Many “defence” bloggers like to think the UK will be safe with gazillions of bullets, fighter jets and nuclear warheads. Many of them forget that defence isn’t my military might or strategy alone, but the collective efforts of different foreign affairs teams. One relatively positive move David Cameron and his Conservative Party made in 2010 was to form a National Security Council (NSC). Not exactly a mirror image of the one from the country across the Atlantic, this “council” drew together all the main foreign affairs ministries and agencies so as to improve (as is the case in bureaucracies) government decision-making/action/reaction to any potential or occurring security threat. Of course there’s the famoous Cabinet Office Annex (COBRA) meetings, but this now not so new UK NSC is all blue, since there’s a single party as the government (last time there were Liberal Democrats on the council). While the actual NSC website has no names, let me help you by stating who is now in the UK’s all blue NSC (drawing names from this and positions from this:

Prime Minister (Chair)–David Cameron,(Our young, Oxford trained, new Thatcherite. He will gain advice from others but use his own believes to decide how to respond to security threats.)

Chancellor of the Exchequer (and also First Secretary of State, definitely Deputy Chair)–George Osborne (Another sharp (neo)-Thatcherite, he is known to reduce the UK’s ability to respond to security threats but cutting funding and thus capabilities to departments like Defence, Home Department, Energy and Climate Change (basically all the non-ringfenced departments) in order to achieve his Conservative/Monetarist goal of an economic surplus and almost non-debt and deficit. He will also likely be the Deputy Chair since he’s the First Secretary of State and there’ no Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) in the new all-blue frontbench and Cabinet.

Leader of the House of Commons–Chris Grayling (I’m not sure if the new all-blue NSC will have the Leader of the House of Commons in the UK NSC, so I’ll skip.)

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Deputy Chair)–Philip Hammond (used to be Defence Secretary, and before that Transport Secretary. Eurosceptic. That’s my main worry about him.

Secretary of State for Defence–Michael Fallon (got his promotion because Philip Hammond was moved to the Foreign Office. Was first Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party, then Minister of State for Business and Enterprise and then Minister of State for Energy. Is he a good Defence Minister? Basically, he’s doing what’s he’s told to do and is constrained by Osborne’s plan for cuts.)

Secretary of State for the Home Department–Theresa May. Looks fierce. I frankly don’t know much about her and her views. As with the others, her department will be constrained by Osborne’s economic plans.

Secretary of State for International Development–Justine Greening. She was there (as was Andrew Mitchell) in the Coalition Government NSC. Basically, she has the responsibility and privilege of using aid to improve global/international development but also to a) effect development by non-aid means and b) use aid to secure the UK’s national (security) interests (without violating Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) rules). I wonder if George Osborne hates it he has to let her have a ring-fenced department.

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change–Amber Rudd. She’ll be new to the NSC, but not the new to DECC. Thatcherite ( or so she claims), but the new Tories aren’t exactly anti-climate change (unlike extreme right wing US Republicans).

Chief Secretary to the Treasury–Greg Hands. Like Rudd, he’ll be a new member to the NSC, but his role won’t be much since George Osborne is the man with the “cuts” plan. Or maybe he’ll do something in the NSC…

(I’ll skip the post of “Minister for Government Policy” since I believe this has been removed).

So all the “Apostles” are listed above. The NSC (when it was formed) although had sub-committees: The Nuclear Deterrence and Security sub-Committee and the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies sub-committee.

The Nuclear Deterrence and Security sub-committee consists of:

Prime Minister (Chair)

Chancellor of the Exchequer (and now First Secretary of State) (Definitely Deputy Chair)–wonder what’s he going to do? Give less money to disarmament negotiations?

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Deputy Chair)–I rather he be the main Deputy Chair.

Secretary of State for Defence

Secretary of State for the Home Department

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change–this person will definitely have a lot to do if there’s a nuclear explosion!!!

The Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies sub-committee

Prime Minister (Chair)

Chancellor of the Exchequer (and now First Secretary of State) (Definitely Deputy Chair)

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Deputy Chair)

Secretary of State for Defence

Secretary of State for the Home Department

Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills–Sajid Javid. He will be yet another new to the NSC. First time in BIS, not first time in Cabinet. We shall see what he brings and what he does during a crisis/for a potential crisis.

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

Secretary of State for Justice–Michael Gove. The previous SoS for Justice was “blue”. Don’t see much of a change but lots of people (not Conservatives) hate Gove.

Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities–Nicky Mogan. I again don’t know her but her role in this sub-committee is to ensure school kids don’t get radicalised or run away to fight for terrorist groups.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government–Greg Clark. His predecessor was a Tory. I again don’t know his character. SoS Communities and LG basically has to handle communities during times or crisis.

Secretary of State for Transport–Patrick McLoughlin. Again same old “blue” SoS as last time. Transport was a key signatory to the 2014 The UK national strategy for maritime security and should be a key member for any transport-related crisis–air, land or sea.

Secretary of State for Health–Jeremy Hunt. Another hated Tory by many. In any case, health is coming to prominence especially since the Ebola Outbreak.

Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs–Elizabeth Truss. First time in cabinet I believe. I also don’t know her style. It’s quite obvious what this SoS is needed if there’s a crisis or to prevent crises.

Secretary of State for International Development

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport–John Whittingdale. Not sure why the SoS for CMS is needed in this sub-committee. To broadcast news during national emergencies?

Minister for the Cabinet OfficeOliver Letwin and Matt Hancock (maybe Letwin will sit in the sub-committee). Needed for (guess) the British version of continuity of government.

There it is ladies and gentlemen, your all blue (Conservative/Tory/whatever name) UK National Security Council. (Any Clapping?)

The Type 26 Frigate: The October 2014 Letter

Something letters/emails/news releases/literature exaggerates, other times the just lie to the reader. This parliamentary letter from current UK Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, to the current Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee Rory Stewart may be telling a huge lie or exaggerating, or simply giving the facts which could have been given earlier. I focus of several parts of the letter.

First, Fallon’s reply states or rather confirms that the Type 26 may (the design isn’t finalised) carry the the Mk 41 VLS tubes. This is significant as previously, it was a toss up between Mk 41 or the SYLVER VLS, which the Royal Navy already uses on its Type 45 destroyers. There has been many articles on the pros and cons regarding each different VLS system, but the Mk 41 certainly is the better choice for the Royal Navy in terms of practicality (Others have covered this in greater detail so I won’t–for the moment). In any case, the sweating of whether it was going to Mk 41 is finally over.

A second more surprising topic/issue brought up from the letter is the number of VLS cells, 24. Now, if you skim through old articles and blogs about the Type 26, everyone said the first model in around 2012 had 24 cells. Then in 2013 with the high likelihood of it moving to Mk 41, the number dropped to 16, given the almost definitive displacement and dimensions of the ship. You can view NavyRecognition’s articles here and here and watch the two Youtube videos below.

16 tubes in my view would be pushing it to the bare minimum so the letter would be on the surface a welcome. But 24 tubes would mean a ship with a larger displacement (noting that the MK 41 is a heavy tube) and of large dimensions. Secretaries of State and politicians are known for never telling the truth or setting the facts straight. Stil, this is from a SoS to a Select Committee Chairman, most possibly for a report (I can’t figure out what the letter is exactly for; any guesses?). 24 is a nice touch but not without complications.

Third, the possibility of exaggeration comes in the types of weapons the Mk 41 VLS cells may fire. The letter says “Such as the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile), to anti-ship missiles and Anti-Submarine Rockets…”. First part, the well known Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM). It’s already in the Royal Navy, that is, with the Trafalgar-Class and the Astute-Class SSNs. But unlike the US Navy, the Royal Navy fires TLAMs via their torpedo tubes, not submarine VLS tubes or using Mk 41 VLS on their surface ships. It would mean buying the TLAM variant that can be fitted into a Mk 41 VLS tube, altering the costs complications. But ok,  it’s nice Fallon tells Stewart that the Type 26 will/may fire the TLAM. (Personally, I’m not a strong proponent of the Type 26 being a land-attack ship).

Second part, “to anti-ship missiles”. Ok, here it is not an exaggeration or a lie but just reiterating a “known-unknown” (I’m not a Rumsfeld supporter btw). No one knows what anti-surface warfare (ASuW) missile the Royal Navy will be getting. Ok, the fantasy fleet people think it’s going to be the US Nay’s next-generation Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) (see here). That’s fine, but the missile isn’t exactly out yet or even projected to be sold to the UK. Others suggest the future SPEAR III missile may be the future ASuW weapon. That supposedly can quad-pack into the Mk 41 so that would be 24×4=96 SPEAR III missiles if all the cells are filled (never the case). But again, SPEAR III isn’t out yet (though it is a UK project).

Third Part which could be an exaggeration of the Type 26’s capabilities or a real fact is the “and Anti-Submarine Rockets” part. This undoubtedly refers to the RUM-139 VL-ASROC or simply ASROC, the only possible rocket launcher with a torpedo in it. Now, that would be a wonderful weapon for the Type 26, especially the eight of them fitted with the Sonar 2087 sonar, the supposedly best kind of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) sonar around. ASROC however needs the torpedo to be effective. So far, the USN and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) use the Mk 46 or Mk 50 torpedo in their ASROCs. The Royal Navy’s Stingray torpedo has never known to be fitted on a ASROC type rocket, nor launched vertically. Again, costs come into play if this is a fact. Or an exaggeration?

There’s some more to be picked out of the Fallon-Stewart letter such as the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Light) (FASGW (L)) missile. It will be called the Martlet. Other issues, well read the letter yourself.

To be expanded later.