Not a 404: But service websites that are not updated

They say social media provides more instant up-to-date news and that this more of information better suits today’s world or at least the current, perhaps Millennial Generation. Yet, websites, a source of information that arose in the 1990s, are still a vital source. Most advanced militaries in open, democratic countries wish to get accurate information out and to connect with the civilian/political community. Yet, the UK’s three services websites lag behind in this area.

I suppose I shall start with the most incomplete and hardly updated website: The British Army or https://www.army.mod.uk/ . This service was the last the update its website to a more modern, tech-savvy kind of website in around 2017/2018. With this update, it finally released the new structure of the Army, seen under the ‘Who We Are’ Structure’ here (I won’t put up the full picture for fear of copyright violation). The picture, however, has long had some errors. First, it sorts of incorrectly suggests that the Deputy Chief of the General Staff (DCGS) is a four star when only his boss is. Ok, that is a small error. Second, it says that there’s a command called ‘Army Recruiting Training Division’ under Home Command. This training command has been, since 2018, been re-named as ‘Army Recruiting and Initial Training Command’ since 2108. It is also jointly held by the Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The Sandhurst Group, indicated in the in the chart, is actually under a Brigadier/One-Star command. You can google around and find this fact such as here or check the good Colin Mackie, http://www.gulabin.com.

Second, there are errors in the ‘Equipment’ section. Under ‘Small Arms and Support Weapons’ they still list the Light Support Weapon and Light Machine Gun, even though these weapons were phased out by at least in April 2019. They also have not listed anti-materiel rifles like the L135A1 LRPAS or ‘other weapons’, though these other weapons are used by UK Special Forces. Under ‘Vehicles’, the TpZ Fuchs, is not listed although it and the numbers of such vehicle are supposedly top secret, though easily found. There are also a couple of minor vehicles such as Pinzgauer (though now mainly used by the Royal Marines) which aren’t listed. Correctly, the ‘aircraft’ sub-section does not list fixed-wing aircraft like the Islander and Defender; the squadron they are under are transferred to RAF command and control.

The biggest incomplete section that has not been updated for at least a year is the ‘Who we are’ section. Under ‘Our people’, there is only sections of ‘ranks’ which is so commonly known, and ‘a soldier’s standards’. There is absolutely, as of 16 June 2019, no biographies of senior officers, not even of the CGS, who has been in position for just over a year. This in sharp contrast to the Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Air Force (RAF) websites. The RN has biographies of its top three senior leaders–First Sea Lord, Second Sea Lord and Fleet Commander. The RAF goes even further, listing all, or maybe almost all the senior commanders, including members of the Air Board. The British Army’s website is most likely still under development, but the lack of any simple information like senior commanders is explicitly damaging in terms of image. How long does it take to take a picture of top leaders and write their biographies?

Other missing or incomplete information rest in the ‘Corps, Regiments and Units’ section. Initially, only units from the Infantry and Royal Armour Corps were linked when the website was updated to its more modern look, and not all of them were listed. It took ages before various combat units, combat service support and other units were added. It also took ages before they created another section called ‘Formations and Divisions’ but initially erroneously added sub-units like the 77th Brigade there. Many battalions and units under ‘Corps, Regiments and Units’ are still without pages/websites. These are:

Army Air Corps: One of the last sections to be added since website was re-designed. No sub-units added.

Royal Artillery: It took them weeks before 5 RA, 7 RHA, and other regiments were added. 106 RA is still missing. 32 RA still listed but supposedly will go in 2021. Supposedly.

Royal Signals: As with AAC, one of the last corps added and no-sub units added at all.

Corps of Royal Engineers: Very incomplete, missing the new 28 RE, 32 RE, 35 (EOD) RE, reserve units like 71, 75, 101 (EOD) RE and Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia).

Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers: Listed only 6 Close Support Battalion REME recently. The rest from 1 to 7 Aviation Support and the reserve battalions, all missing.

Royal Logistic Corps: All complete and was the fast to be completed. Some units like training units may still be missing though.

Intelligence Corps: 1 Military Intelligence Battalion is missing or will it disband under Army 2020 Refine?

Infantry: Regiments are fully listed but not individual battalions. Exceptions are Royal Regiment of Scotland–just a general list, The Rifles and the Yorkshire Regiment. Even the Royal Gurkha Rifles don’t have separate pages for their two battalions, but that’s a minor squabble.

Adjutant General’s Corps: All complete and completed in a short time. The Royal Military Police page however gives you information not many know of–that the 1st Military Brigade is under the operational control of 3rd UK Division. More about this below.

Army Medical Services: All complete, even including unit(s) that will disband under Army 2020 Refine.

All the other regiments/corps/units are minor units. In summary, there is a whole list of uncompleted units, and to a normal, non-military observer, he/she would believe the British Army has shrunk. Overall, listing 230 units (as of 15/6/2019) doesn’t give a very positive image to the wider public.

Under Formations, Divisions and Brigades: The information again took long to complete and there was a misleading idea that HQ 1st Artillery Brigade was under Force Troops Command, as it was stated in the original Army 2020 Plan. Then, the website shifted it under 3rd UK Division, as your truly noted. Was there a change of operational command? Yes, but no official announcement was made. I only found proof of this via a FOIA and made the British Army webmaster change the wording. The biographies under Home Command also may need updating.

Another area I’m critical about is the news section. The British Army. along with the RAF (as I’ll detail below), hardly post news events, as compared to the senior service. British army news articles come like once every few days, sometimes one or two articles after a week or worse, a fortnight. The best source of news then comes from not even the monthly Soldier Magazine (which isn’t always updated immediately), but from individual corps or regimental websites or charities or association. These are sadly, harder to fine.

Enough rating about the Army. The senior and junior websites are better in terms of style but still lack in accurate content. In the Royal Navy, under ‘Equipment’ and under ‘Ships’ they still list Landing Platform Helicopter although HMS Ocean has been decommissioned and sold to Brazil. Under ‘Submarines’, the style for the ‘Astute Class’ isn’t presented in the main page; you have to scroll down to find it. Ok, that’s a very minor squabble. Under “Commando’ and ‘Troop’ weapons, they still the L110A2 5.56MM LMG although as with the British Army, this weapon has been phased out of service. They also don’t list all the vehicles used by the Royal Marines, just the Viking All-Terrain Armoured Vehicle. More significantly, in recent weeks, the webmasters have removed the profiles of commanding officers of ships, submarines, FAA squadrons, bases you name it. They also temporarily removed the senior 2* posts–COMUKMARFOR, RADM FAA, CGRM and Commander, RFA–and only just replaced them. The search function in the website, as well as the British Army’s, also isn’t very user friendly.

Other than this, the Royal Navy website is top notch. As stated, it is the leading service website that updates its news section like around at least three or up to five articles a day or nearly more than ten articles across the working week. The style of all sections of the website is appealing to users of generations. Perhaps they could, as with the British Army, merge the news and Navy News much closer and get the former to publish the monthly edition online much earlier.

The RAF’s website, with a dark blue (I doubt it is trolling the Royal Navy) background, has quite up to date information. Previously, the old, 1990s-style RAF website had more detailed information on RAF weapons from guns to bombs to missiles. In this website, that information is mostly removed but in place, the images of all, or almost all RAF aircraft are of higher quality and some have individual 3D images or videos. Squadrons and groups are neatly detailed there are biographies of the commanding officers, and as noted, of the senior officers who mostly make up the Air Force board. What is lacking is updates–the current or recently new officers like Air Marshal Gerry Mayhew and Air-Vice Marshal Ian Gale did not have their biographies published until very recently. Under RAF Police and Regiment, the information about 26 RAF Regiment was only just removed, giving an incorrect impression that there’s two RAF Regiment still conducting CBRN ops.

There are more minor mistakes but the point is very clear: UK Armed Forces just don’t have up-to-date websites. Don’t get me started on the MOD’s gov.uk site; that is just as terrible. But is this worthy criticism or just ranting? For sure, many say website work isn’t a core function for officers, ORs, or civil servants. The whole of defence and the armed forces have better issues to worry about but having incomplete or worse, stagnant websites adversely affects the whole force. Having up-to-date websites with accurate contents has several benefits:

1) As I harp on above, it helps inform the public about the armed services. Not everyone is social media-savvy and social media has more often than not, created disinformation or as Donald Trump has supported, created fake news. By having properly updated websites, any of the three services could rightly counter, yes, we are conducting ABC, no, we have unit XYZ, it has not disbanded, and so on. Those without social media, and even those who don’t go to the library (!!!) can look up the website and check what’s happening to this regiment or what is being procured. This would be more for veterans of past decades. Say you served in the Royal Engineers. Hey, why isn’t there a page on 32 RE? Did they disband the unit under Army 2020/Army 2020 Refine? I’m angry! This response would not be so if there was a unit webpage/website. Or say you are interested in joining up, especially to a regiment/corps you father/grandfather was part of. Would you like it if you check and not find the webpage/website on army.mod.uk?

2) The image of a proper updated website brings value, or even soft power to the service and the UK as a whole. Allies may not be always so privy to the any of three services and may often check their websites rather than tweet or Facebook them. What sort of image would it bring if an ally of the UK finds an Army website lack unit information or new updates? Or cannot find the biography or a senior Royal Navy officer? In sharp contrast, the US has quite informative and quickly updated military sites for its four main armed services, the DOD and other defense-related agencies. Alright, it’s the world’s superpower and each service has a regiment-size media and webpage team. The British aren’t that far behind; for the army, there’s a Major-General holding the appointment of Director Engagement and Communications (D E&C) and a Colonel as Assistant Head, Army Media & Communications. Surely, they have a team working on webpage development. What’s taking them so long from fixing the British Army’s website.

3) The image it provides adversaries. Ok, perhaps the army’s incomplete website, the minor missing content in the Royal Navy and RAF’s website is part of a larger disinformation campaign against UK adversaries such as Russia, China, Daesh, you name it. I do not buy this at all. Even at the height of Op HERRICK, the government still published which units would deploy for that operation and publicise new equipment like Mastiff and Foxhound vehicles. A complete, up-to-date website would add more to the soft power element, informing or perhaps scaring the enemy of the lethality the British Armed Forces. Alright, there’s nothing scary really since most outsiders know the army isn’t even close to the 82,000 figure, the Royal Navy is still small in terms of surface warships and the RAF isn’t that huge in size or firepower either. But websites that don’t contain the simple information of units or weapons further degrade the whole picture.

It’s up to the three services if they want fix up their websites or plod on with not even a half full glass.

Welcome back 28 Engineer Regiment and British Army control of CBRN

1 April 2019 marks, no, not April Fools Day, but the re-formation of 28 Engineer Regiment (RE) which disbanded back in 2014. This reformation re-creates a Counter-Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment for the British Armed Forces, totally under British Army control. The unit used to command wide-wet river crossing squadrons in British Forces Germany.

History of CBRN capability in the British Armed Forces

The UK had some foresight in creating a unit to counter or at least detect CBRN agents. This was the result 1998 Strategic Defence Review, which foresaw such a need (see paragraph 35). The outcome was the Joint CBRN Regiment, which consisted of the then- 1st Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) and as well as reserve elements from 2623 Squadron RAuxAF Regiment and the Royal Yeomanry. In 2010, with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government came the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which saw military unit cuts due to a inaccurate prediction of a peace dividend after the Afghanistan campaign. Those cuts saw the removal of the Joint CBRN Regiment and the Fuchs vehicles,  with all 11 of them slated for disposal, see also this answer in 2011. The 1st RTR would merge with its sister, the 2nd RTR, to form up a whole Challenger 2 Regiment. After some consideration, CBRN capability was retained at a smaller capability, from joint to purely under the RAF Regiment’s control. 27 Squadron RAF Regiment would join with 26 Squadron RAF Regiment (see this and this), and 2623 RAuxAF to maintain CBRN capability, with the Fuchs vehicles most definitely shelved.

Sniff, sniff. Then came the Arab Spring and then Syrian Civil War which saw Assad using chemical weapons on his own people and maybe the ISIS group. MPs questioned why the UK removed its essential CBRN capability in a debate. A couple years later, Falcon Squadron from the RTR was re-formed along side the other squadrons of the merged RTR. The squadron’s role was officially known as a ‘CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance Squadron’ and you can read all about it in this article. The Fuchs vehicles were recommissioned or regenerated at a price of £7,115,941 in 2015, with a simulator already ordered in 2014. The RTR official Facebook page later showed pictures of the vehicles in action, including a Husky and a unidentifiable vehicle – check out this picture, this picture and this one.

Ok, so Fuchs had returned and the RTR was proud of it. The RTR Association website used to have newsletters – its now updated and they are sadly gone – and one of them described the structure of Falcon Squadron:

CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance (AS&R) Capability
Falcon Squadron RTR provide defence’s CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance capability. Manned by the RTR they are under the command of 22 Engr Regt in Force Troops
Command. Falcon Squadron is equipped with two troops of four German Fuchs TPz vehicles. Each Fuchs is capable of chemical and radiological hazard detection and is crewed by four CBRN Specialists who are able to operate in CBRN hazard areas due to the vehicles

Ok, so the British Army restored its CBRN capability, and it would fall under 22 Engineer Regiment. Nevertheless, this was only a squadron or company-sized unit and the RAF regiment still held the bulk of CBRN capability. Fast forward to SDSR 2015, and if you look closely at the Joint Force 2025 graphics, you would realise the future RAF Regiment size would be slightly smaller. Yours truly guessed rightly and confirmed by a FOIA that the Army would fully take on the responsibility of CBRN. This was further confirmed in the Royal Engineers Association Management Committee minutes: 1) 23 February 2018 minutes stated the creation of “a Counter Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Regiment” by 2019 under the name and 2) this was also confirmed in the 29 January 2019 minutes.

Organisation and shape of things to come

Welcome back 28 RE and British Army Counter-CBRN! The first question that came to ‘wannabe military experts’ or ORBAT-crazy people (not me) was: What is the structure of this new regiment? Thankfully and quite willingly, the answer was revealed in this tweet:

64 HQ & Sp Squadron (C-CBRN)
42 Field Squadron (C-CBRN)
FALCON Squadron (C-CBRN)
77 Field Squadron (C-CBRN).

64 and 42 are former squadrons from the former 28 RE, Falcon we know where it’s from — will it get a number under its new parent regiment? 77 Squadron was from 35 RE which was a close support engineer regiment but under Army 2020 Refine, that regiment is now an Explosive Ordnance and Search (EOD&S) regiment. Beyond 28 RE, the Defence CBRN Centre at Winterbourne Gunner has shifted command from the RAF Regiment to the Royal School of Military Engineering (RSME) Group, further cementing the Army’s control of CBRN away from the RAF — you can see further tweets about the transfer here and here

This RAF to British Army control of Counter-CBRN and ‘new’ formation didn’t occur peacefully as Russia, mostly definitely through President Putin, released Novichok in Salisbury, nearly killing former GRU Colonel Sergei Skirpal and his daughter Yuulia and accidentally killing Dawn Sturgess and affecting Charlie Rowley. Falcon Squadron and the respective RAF regiments were in fact used in the cleaning up of Salisbury. So the British Armed Forces rightly restored its Counter-CBRN capability, but its adversaries are certainly moving at a faster pace.

So what next for 28 Engineer Regiment? For one, with the strained personnel shortfall in British Army recruitment, retention and training, the first challenge is whether there is really enough qualified – Counter-CBRN work is ‘rocket science’ – personnel to fully man each squadron as stated above. 28 RE, now sitting under 12 Force Support Engineer Group will not just have to deal with future CBRN attacks on British soil but help detect and clear paths for the Army’s single ‘warfighting’ division in any operation. The second most pressing challenge is which vehicle will replace the Fuchs vehicles, which are old and, via a FOIA, will likely go out of service (OSD) in 2019/2020. Oh yes, they did issue a Prior Information Notice in March 2019 to to upgrade 10 Fuchs and 1 simulator hoping to extend the OSD to 2024 or even 2027. A much newer vehicle would be rather welcoming. The Army is in the process of acquiring Ajax, Boxer and much later, the MRV-P Group 1 and Group 2 vehicles. MRV-P Group 1, which sadly or thankfully, will be the US-made Oshkosh L-ATV might be a possible choice, or even Boxer, in the same fashion as the US M1135 Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, Reconnaissance [Stryker] Vehicle. Or even something else. Personally, the personnel issue will be the most challenging part first. This discussion would require another post.

Anyway, welcome back 28 Engineer Regiment.

Let’s have a non-warfare First Sea Lord! Let’s have a non-fighter pilot CAS! Let’s…

So before Christmas, Gavin Williamson chose the next batch of four-star military leaders. This is certainly not unusual given that the current four leaders are nearly 60 years of age and all have been in post for at least two years. The new set of leaders chosen are certainly not chosen through a ‘game of thrones’ as some rumour-spread ‘journalist’ claims. Yet, as before, there are social media ‘groans’ over the choices.

The most prominent groan I can find is that the future Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), soon-to-be Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, is yet another pilot. Groan, yes, except for former Air Chief Marshal Andrew Pulford, the list of RAF CAS since end of the Cold War have been fighter/ground-attack pilots. Why can’t they choose a non-(fighter) pilot?

The very clear reason why, and such commentators should look before whining, is that they can’t. CAS are either chosen from a batch of Air Marshals or current Air Chief Marshals. The excellent historian Colin Mackie provides a list of all RAF officers from Air Commodore above. There aren’t any four-stars to choose from so let’s skip down to Air Marshals. AM Stacey is listed to be retired. Mackie doesn’t list a source but a simple search shows that Stacey was previously Chief of Staff, NATO Allied Command Transformation. He was a ground-based RAF officer, ok, that’s not a pilot, but he’s 59 or  so, thus he’s not a choice for promotion. AM Philip Osborn was Chief Defence Intelligence and is also likely to retire. He was a fighter pilot. AM Julian Young is Chief Materiel (Air), not a usual position for moving up to CAS. In any case again he’s old even though wasn’t a fast-attack pilot officer. AM Stuart Evans could have been a a choice for CAS since he’s young. But his biography shows he was also a fast-attack pilot. AM Stuart Atha would have been a great choice for CAS. Unfortunately, he’s as old as the current CAS, ACM Stephen Hillier, and well, also a fast-attack officer.

So there’s just no basis for groaning that the future CAS is still a pilot officer (no offence to the academic who tweeted it). The list of Air Marshals for CAS is short and all the probable choices have been jet pilots. Yes, perhaps they could have chosen an Air-Chief Marshal. But this is the UK, not the US where officers can be nominated to four-star from a non-three-star rank. In any case, I don’t believe US service chiefs (as in the heads of the US Navy, US Army, US Air Force, US Marine Corps) can be chosen from two-star officers.

There was also a very strong argument for a non-warfare officer to be First Sea Lord. Yet the next First Sea Lord, soon-to-be full Admiral Tony Radakin had an extensive career commanding ships. Again, if you look at Mackie’s list of Vice Admirals it is even shorter and all the possible candidates: VADM Timothy Fraser, VADM Ben Key, VADM Paul Bennett and of course, VADM Tony Radakin served as officers on board ships and commanded ships. Fraser Key and Radakin are the only real possible choices and I guess Key was rejected for some reason or just didn’t want the responsibility of handling the senior service’s budget. Fraser having joint experience and being a high-flyer, got the second-highest command.

Nevertheless, I’m not blatantly criticising alternative choices for service chiefs; in fact I agree that officers from all forms of services should be given the chance to be the head of their service. Yet, one should not intentionally favour or pick them just because they are a minor ethnicity, a female or a non-combat service officer. The whole issue of equal opportunity should be more about looking at capability. The Daily Telegraph news article stated that the new four-star officers were chosen as they would aid improving innovation in the British Armed Forces and the MOD and rightly so. (Contrast it with the Sky News article which suggest there is a fight between the senior service and the RAF–this is a pure example of fake news.) Capability as factor will rightly choose the person who can lead the forces, and that certainly isn’t a ‘showdown over a variants of the F-35’ or a ‘Game of Thrones’. The focus of capability of course seems to disturb proponents or activists for minorities or females. Yet, as I mentioned above, pandering towards one side isn’t beneficial.

Will we get a non-fighter pilot as CAS or a non-warship captain as First Sea Lord in the future? Or even a female? Well Mackie’s almost correct lists of senior officers provides you with the possible choices. In any case, the appointment of these four officers opens up their own positions, namely, Chief of Joint Operations, Second Sea Lord, Deputy Commander Capability and Air Member for Personnel and Capability and Commander Field Army. These three-star positions, and other may again lead the path to top commands. It is any one’s game, so long as they have the experience in joint commands and are capable.

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 Ministers’ 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.

British Army top appointment changes

A simple post here.

The British Army under the Chief of the General Staff (CGS) Sir Nicholas Carter KCB CBE DSO ADC Gen has made several changes to the titles of senior British Army Commanders and Commands. First of, Support Command/Commander Support Command, which was the two-star command formed after the disbandment of 2nd, 4th and 5th Divisions, has been renamed as Regional Command in around 2015. This command will cover the roughly the same functions of Support Command: It is the Army’s 2* HQ for the UK, Nepal and Brunei. It delivers Real Life Support to the Army and controls the UK Stations and Garrisons. It is also responsible for engagement with the civilian community and acts as the proponent for UK Operations.

Ok, just a name change, nothing special. We all like to be different.

Next up, the traditional post of Master-General of the Ordnance (MGO) has been removed/eliminated sometime after September 2012. MGO was a longstanding senior officer “responsible for all British artillery, engineers, fortifications, military supplies, transport, field hospitals and much else, and is not subordinate to the commander-in chief of the British military” ie, the CGS. In around March 2013, this post was renamed as ” Director Land Capability and Transformation” with still a seat on the Army Board but it was gone after September 2013. The reason? Not publicly stated, but I think CGS thought that post was redundant with the numerous two-star officers around. Artillery, Engineers and Field Hospitals for example were covered by the new General Officer Commanding, Force Troops Command. Fortifications don’t really exist any more and basing I think is covered by Director [of] Support, Director of Capability, Director, Service Operations, Director, Service Operations, Information Systems and Services, Director-General, Army Basing and Infrastructure (all two-star officers) and the higher Commander Home Command (more about this officer later). Or the rest covered by the higher Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) team. Military supplies and transport, well, probably covered by Chief Materiel (Army). So MGO or Director Land Capability and Transformation had really nothing to do.

Ok, another removal. Sad that a traditional post is gone? Yes, the tears and cries can still go on.

Next, another traditional post “Adjutant-general to the Forces” has also been removed. In around June 2015, the post was renamed “Commander Personnel and Support Command”/”Commander Personnel Support Command” (both are “Google-ble). This immediately made me question: What on earth is this command for and how did it differ from the role of Adjutant-general? Yours truly issued an FOIA question and got back this reply:

The 3-star level Commander Personnel Support Command will assume responsibility for the delivery elements of the Adjutant General’s portfolio: recruiting; individual training (officers and soldiers); career management and postings. The Command will therefore include the Military Secretary’s Organisation and the Army Personnel Centre, the Army Recruiting and Training Division and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. For completeness, Personnel Support Command will also include the current Support Command (to be re-titled Regional Command) to provide the Army’s institutional support, including: civil engagement; cadets; Firm Base and Garrisons; Recovery Capability; welfare; and veterans, including the Regular Reserve.

(see fully FOIA answer here)

That’s a mouthful indeed and a rather weird name compared to Adjutant-general. Like it or not, the name change happened and several news articles featured CPC (my acronym). One was about the new commander revealing artwork showcasing the British Army’s links to Scotland. Another was about the still delivering firm base support to the British Army in Germany, despite their drawdown. Yet another was reflected in the Royal Signals publication, The Wire,which showed Lieutenant General James Bashall, CPC, visiting 11th Signal Brigade and Headquarters West Midlands. There are further links referring to CPC’s activities:here, here (government site describing his role), here and here. Somehow or the other, CGS and his top team didn’t think the name Personnel [and] Support Command didn’t fit. So in yet another (pointless???) name changing exercise, it became [Commander] Home Command. There was only one news article about this command or name change (not even on the outdated British Army website), and it signified the command reached its Full Operational Capability. Ok, there are more media and social media news stories about CHC (my acronym again) here, here and here. Most interestingly, a Ministry of Defence “policy paper” listed Command Home Command as “responsible for the planning and execution of civil contingency operations within the UK landmass and territorial waters.”

What do I think about this? Well, it is a bit more than a name change here (if you read carefully). The elimination of the AG post was because “I [CGS himself] no longer have an Adjutant-General. The reason that I [CGS himself] do not have an Adjutant-General is that effectively I[CGS himself] am the Adjutant-General. (Sir Nick to the Defence Select Committee on 14 June 2016). Ok, so he as the sole four-star general wants to act as a the chief officer to all Army personnel. Then now he has a CPC sorry CHC, who controls, people, their promotion, their welfare, their basing and on top of that, engagement with the British public and overall officer in-charge of aid to civil authorities. Step back a bit: A three-star general coordinating relief efforts at home? (Well ok, Chief Joint Operations is also a three star. Even so, lots of questions remain regarding his renaming and responsibility.

Another position removed in around 2015 was “Commander Force Development and Capability” who was responsible for “for training the Army, and developing its capability, sustainability and doctrine”. Why on earth was he removed? I think the MGO, Commander Home Command and Commander Field Army (see below) had something to do with it.

Yet another change is the senior officer who controls all of the Army’s deploy-able forces. Once, there was “Commander-in-Chief, HQ Land Command” from around 1972 to 1995, a four-star post. This then still was for a full General but renamed as “Land Command”. Ok, hardly a difference but Land Command lasted for around thirteen years before becoming Land Forces. Again, not much of a chang in name, responsibility and the officer was still four-star called “Commander-in-Chief”. Then came the cuts to the big cuts to defence and after the Lord Levene report, it was just “Commander Land Forces” with the holder a three-star ie. Lieutenant General. Name change across four decades. No, no, further name change to Commander Field Army in around mid 2015. This guy, still a Lieutenant General will consist of a Command Group plus four one-star branches: Commitments and Support, based in Ramillies, Warfare and Training, based in Warminster. Or basically, he just has a bigger group under his wing but still commands a small deploy-able force.

Finally, Sir Nick decided, oh, I’m CGS and like my other colleagues, the First Sea Lord and the Chief of Air Staff, I’m now really in charge of my own budget thanks to Lord Levene. But no, let’s have another guy deputising for me when I’m away or on leave. Give it to Commander Field Army? No. So Sir Nick created a Deputy Chief of the General Staff (Deputy CGS) post, a three-star command. This holder is “[r]esponsible for representing the Army [Top Level Budget] TLB within Head Office and outwards to relevant TLBs and dependencies, provides oversight of the Army Operating Model and provides overall personnel policy direction as the Principal Personnel Officer] PPO.”

Hey Presto! You have a deputy Sir Nick! But wait, wasn’t the Levene Report meant to reduce the top-heavy leadership not increase the number of senior officers? In the other two services, neither of the two main four-stars have another deputy in this sense. Ok, Fleet Commander (who used to be a four-star Commander-in-Chief Fleet) and Deputy Commander (Operations) (who used to be junior to four-star Commander-in-Chief Air Command) are effectively the deputies for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force respectively. Neither of these two services have a “Deputy First Sea Lord” or “Deputy Chief of the Air Staff” at present (though these post use to exist. So why, Sir Nicholas Carter, did you get a deputy for yourself, even if he’s a PPO, oh wait, didn’t you yourself say you are the chief personnel officer?

Two points I wish to make here: 1) Why hasn’t the British Army explained all these recent name changes and their (new) responsibilities? 2) Nice to have new names, nice to have change, but always ask whatever for?

Doing more with less or rather higher quality

This post by the pretty famous aviation-centred geek Foxtrot Jalopnik takes a critical view of a graphic presented Contemporary Issues and Geography. The picture as show below shows a graphic or rather ORBAT of almost all or all the UK’s active military aircraft, combat, combat air support and even training.

UK military aircraft Feb 2016

UK military aircraft Feb 2016

(All rights go to http://cigeography.blogspot.fr/)

Foxtrot Jalopnik (henceforth FJ) goes on to say:

The Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm and the Army Air Corps have shrunk dramatically over the last decade, but the recent Strategic Defense and Security Review has ordered the UK begin to reinvest heavily into its air arms…Of particular note in this case is just how small the UK’s front-line fighter force is…Even the Army Air Corps helicopter transport fleet looks particularly small…

It does however end on a positive note:

This graphic will dramatically change once again in the coming decade as the F-35 is introduced into the Fleet Air Arm and RAF inventory, as well as other aircraft such as the P-8 Poseidon. Still, its unlikely that the UK’s air combat end-strength will ever look anything like it once did as recently as 2003 invasion of Iraq. Then again, the same can be said for America’s air combat aircraft inventory.

If FJ’s post could be said to be critical, the commentators below are far more acerbic. Sxay91 bring up the common swipe that previous (Labour) governments have destroyed the UK military. Buzz Killington is even more biased, using the “usual” line hat the UK (and European nations) have to spend more on welfare (than the Us, which by the way, has some sort of welfare system in certain areas) and now has to tend to (Muslim) refugees. JohnDiz cites his (possible) own experience saying that UK Special Forces needed UK rotary and aviation support (damn the Special Relationship?), FSBCyberPropagandaDivision calls the UK’s future carriers “useless” (not exactly about UK aviation) the list goes on and on. To sum up, These commentators who I guess are mostly American or Brits who want to jump on the bangwagon, agree the UK military aviation is shrinking, lousy, useless (insert your own negative adjective here).

Ok, fine, it is a small force. It’s smaller than it was during World War Two (where by the UK did get US help through the Lend-Lease Act and the wider Commonwealth), it’s a smaller force since immediate post-World War Two, it’s a small aerial force since the Falklands, Gulf War One, Operation Telic. But ok, since FJ brings up the 2003 invasion. Back then, the UK just did have the Tornado Gr4 and the classic Harrier, but it did not have the high accurate Brimstone missile. It ha only the Tornado ADV, the air defence fighter which was definitely less agile and deadly as the Eurofighter Typhoon or its USAF counterparts. In 2003, the Nimrod was was certainly in the ORBAT and in more than one squadron, but not that it was really need for anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The Harrier version in Op Telic was the GR7, not the GR9. There was at best one Army Air Corps (AAC) Regiment there, but not the famous Apache. The UK used its old Lynx AH7 and Gazelle AH1s in the initially campaign. As for Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA) assets, Op Tellic saw the ageing Sea King, not the Merlin helicopter.

The bottom line is, in 2003 Iraq War (or previous campaigns), the UK did have a numerically larger force of aviation assets and a larger variety. What it did not have back with those numerical quantity was quality. Today, even with a smaller FAA, AAC, and Royal Air Force, it has far better equipment and weaponry. The UK has Apaches (and soon to be upgraded AH-64s), Merlin HM2 and later HM4s, Lynx Wildcats, Eurofighter Tranche 1/2 and later versions, as well as other support and ISTAR aircraft. One most common touted weapon by politicians and the media is the Brimstone missile, used in Op Ellamy and the present Syria/Iraq campaign, Op Shader. Everyone wishes for a larger force and FJ did mention that the US aviation force is smaller than it was in Gulf War One and Two. Power doesn’t just come through quantity alone. Ok fine, quantity does matter, but as I’ve quickly shown, it matters at best with high quality.

It’s a good ideal world to have large quantities of forces, aerial, maritime or land-based. But that’s an ideal world. For now, a good quality force helps more than just a larger quantity.

The A-Z dummies guide to the UK’s nuclear deterrent aka “Trident”

Here I present the A-Z guide for the UK’s nuclear deterrent, colloquially and erroneously called “Trident”.

A is for Atom. The Atom and the splitting on the atom is needed for two vital parts: First, to create the nuclear reaction for the reactor plant of the SSBN (the ballistic missile submarine that carries the missiles which carry the warheads) and second, the nuclear reaction that occurs in order to classify the warheads (and missiles) as nuclear-related weapons or if you like, weapons of mass destruction. A is also for Atomic Weapons Establishment, the facility in Aldermaston where UK nuclear warheads are built.

B is for Boat. A Submarine is a submarine, but the sailors and military people, call it a “boat”, NOT a ship. This is a common mistake in fiction novels and movies.

C is for Continuous-at-sea-Deterrence (CASD). CASD is not unique to the UK; The US, France Russia, China, and India, possibly Pakistan but not as yet for North Korea maintain SSBNs that patrol 24/7/365. One SSBN is on deterrence patrol while the three others are on training, maintenance or ready to deploy. This is because there are at maximum FOUR UK SSBNs and only four to maintain the “minimum credible deterrent.” C is also for Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the full anti-nuclear weapons, anti-war, anti-military movement.

D is for Disarmament. The UK maintains its SSBNs but [supposedly] works to create multilateral disarmament. There have been a range of global nuclear disarmament talks such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty(ies) (which the UK was not a partner of) and recently, the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (not that such a topic is needed–everyone should know what a nuclear–fission or fusion–explosion would do). Multilateral Disarmament is just one means of reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles; there is unilateral disarmament, which some politicians advocate but others argue is not viable.

E is for Project E, a previous UK-US agreement to provide RAF bombers with nuclear weapons. One of the first UK-US nuclear agreements. Google it.

F is for the Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent White Paper, published in 2006. It was one of the first post-Cold War UK government papers to advocate retaining an independent nuclear deterrent through to the 21st Century.

G
is for the Guidance System. I’m not exactly sure if the UK version is the same as the US version which uses an “astro-inertial guidance” system. Does this mean the UK’s nuclear deterrent is 100% independent of the US and others? See “I”.

H is for Operation Hurricane, the very first UK atom bomb test.

I is for Independence. The UK is the only P5 member of the United Nations Security Council not to have its own delivery system. The Trident II (D5) UGM-133A missiles are American-made and shared through a “joint pool” with the US Navy. The warheads (see W and A) are supposedly UK-built but based on the US W76 design. With the missiles US-made, many claim the US “controls” the UK’s nuclear deterrent and a UK Prime Minister is unable to even set the launch without a US President’s approval. Opponents say no, the UK has control over its missile launches. See this old FOIA release for how the UK’s weapons are independent.

J is for I guess, Justification for the UK to have a nuclear deterrent.

K is for Kiloton, the measurement in which some nuclear yields (see Y) is measured. The best public evidence on how large the tonnage for UK-built warheads in at least 100 kilotons. The warheads could have a variable yield, who  knows.

L is for Legality. It is one of the major arguments for and against the UK having nuclear weapons or a nuclear deterrent. L is also for the Letters of Last Resort, the dreaded letter a British Prime Minister has to write when entering office. It tells the SSBN commander what to do if the UK has been nuked and command and control is limited or lost.

M is for the Ministry of Defence, where the full super Top Secret nuclear deterrence and launch scenarios are held. M is also for Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which is what nuclear deterrence is, if you hold that view.

N is for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows the UK to be a nuclear weapon state and this may be considered as legality for the UK to have a nuclear deterrent. It also may cause question about the UK’s status and role, since it called for nuclear disarmament. N is also for Northwood where CTF 345 personnel will receive the order from the PM (and his/her team, UK doesn’t officially say if it has a two-man rule at that level) for ballistic missile launch.

O is for Operational Control, again related to Independence. As stated in the FOIA states, UK and US are assigned for NATO security. This was supposedly stopped after 1992 (see this evidence and this.

P is for Polaris, the missile that came become Trident and the colloquially known system. P is also for PINDAR, The top secret bunker beneath Whitehall where the Prime Minister and the Chief of the Defence Staff would hide in during a nuclear crisis or attack and where they would issue the order for a UK strategic missile launch. Official name: Defence Crisis Management Centre (DCMC).

Q is for the Queen. Supposedly, according to Lord Guthrie, the Prime Minister of the day isn’t the final part of the fail-safe mechanism for nuclear missile launch. The Queen is the ultimate head of the armed forces and could stop a made PM from launching a nuclear missile or starting nuclear war.

R is for ROF Cardiff, a former nuclear weapons site. R is also for the Resolution-class submarine, which carried the Polaris missiles, see P.

S is for the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, which pledged to reduce the UK nuclear force to “ewer than 160 to no more than 120” warheads. (See page 38 of the 2010 SDSR). This was officially concluded on 20 January 2015. “All Vanguard Class SSBNs on continuous at-sea deterrent patrol now carry 40 nuclear warheads and no more than eight operational missiles”. S is also for Submariner, the personnel who man the SSBNs and who may lose their jobs if the whole system is scrapped.

T is for, of course, Trident. This as I stated, is the missile, NOT The entire nuclear deterrent!!! You can read about the whole missile here.

U is for Ulysses, an UK nuclear warhead. U is also for the 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement.

V is for Vanguard, the class of SSBN submarine which carries the Trident D5 missiles which carry the UK-made nuclear warheads. V is also for the V-Bomber force, which once carried nuclear gravity bombs.

W is for Warhead. As stated in K (kilton), the warhead is the main part of the whole system that delivers the thermonuclear explosion. The submarine does not actually threaten targets; the Trident missile just guides the warhead to the target. W is also for the WE.177 nuclear gravity bomb, which the UK had until it was removed it 1992 (Royal Navy depth charge) and 1998 (Royal Air Force). This removal is often hailed by politicians as the UK’s major unilateral disarmament, while no other nuclear power followed suit.

X is for Weapon X, “an emergency capability ‘stop-gap’ laydown weapon intended to enable the Vulcan bomber force to operate at low-level for a few years, until the Royal Navy Polaris SLBM force became operational at the end of the 1960s.”

Y is for Yield, the nuclear yield.

Z is for Zodiac Mk3, another UK bomb.