NSS and SDSR 2015: My review of the military context

The National Security Review and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 has been published, rather late in the day but nevertheless published. One immediate difference from the 2010 reviews is that both the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) are combined together. That makes a big difference, but I’ll deal with the strategy part in a later post. First, the military (which forms the defence part):

The Royal Navy:

* Senior service in the NSS and SDSR 2015 stays almost as expected.
* Major ships in surface fleet stay at the small number of 19. But only eight/8 x Type 26 Global combat Ships will be ordered, the anti-submarine variant with Sonar 2087. Five more will appear later, but possibly more with a revised version for “General Purposes”. As many point out, this goes back to the original C1 and C2 variants. Would we thus get more than thirteen/13 type 26 frigates? What exactly will this GP variant be like? Will it have Mk41 Vertical Launch Silos (VLS)? Or are they copying my old idea?
* The graphic shows “up to 6 Patrol Vessels”. Batch 2 River-Class Frigates for sure, plus HMS Clyde, plus the two more that the document (page 31) that will be ordered. I suspect these two/2 additional vessels will also be Batch 2 River-Class? So goodbye to the Batch 1 Offshoere Patrol Vessels (OPV). All seems really good–These can help patrol the Caribbean to some extent and release Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels for other more pressing commitments. It well, also means the Scottish workers have more secured jobs for a while. Lucky them.
* No mention of other patrol vessels, especial the Gibraltar Squadron. Will there be any change?
* Only twelve/12 Mine-counter measure vessels are specified in the graphic, down from the fifteen/15 the Royal Navy has at present. No mention if these are the Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) future variant, though they are likely to be. That’s ok but only if they can extend their reach to the present commitments–the MENA area–or possibly elsewhere.
* Goodbye HMS Ocean. No mention in the graphic or elsewhere. Instead, “We will enhance a Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier to support this amphibious capability.” That, as I and many others point out, is not a practical use of the QEC but well has to be.
* The LPDs and LSDs will stay, ok.
* No mention of the Point-Class Ro-Ros, but they will likely stay.
* No mention of the Merlin HM4/Mk4 variants, oh wait, they put that under the Army graphic. Typo or just saying it’s Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) controlled?
* Royal Marines with Arctic capability. Well, not exactly new; they have operated in Norway for a long time.
* Six/6 Fleet Tankers. Is this four/4 Tide-Class tankers plus the two/2 Wave-Class fuel and support tankers/support ships? Will the Wave-Class ships be replaced in the distant future? Ok, not a worry.
* Three/3 Fleet Solid Support Ships. At present it is RFA Fort Victoria, RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort Austin. Will Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin be replaced by newer Solid Support Ships, again built in South Korea?
* No mention of a replacement for RFA Argus and RFA Diligence. So sad though you did say it it was to be considered. Liar.
* Likely or most likely no change in the number of Merlin HM2/MK2 ASW/ASAC helicopters. Which you know, means a tight Tailored Air Group (TAG). Boo…
*Type 45s may be part of a future Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD).
* Not forgetting the Queen-Elizabeth Class Carriers. Still no confirmation how they will operate, especially with HMS Ocean going away. The TAG is questionable even with the 138 F-35B order which will arise only in the distant future. There are still questions regarding the order. For example, this report says “It means the UK will have 24 F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft available on its two new aircraft carriers by 2023.” Does that mean 24 on one operational carrier or 24×2 = 48 on both carriers? Let’s take it as 24 on HMS Queen Elizabeth. What about the 138-24 others (besides OCU and OEU?) As Justin Bronk points out, could they be the A version?
* Of course, Successor-class, that is the SSBNs will be procured. The submarines that cannot do anything.

British Army:

* The Army 2020 model is no more; it is Army 2025. Instead of the austerity-linked but nice plan by General Sir Nicholas Carter (see this), the Army 2025 plan alters the Reaction and Adaptable Forces. Now there will be two/2 x Armoured Infantry (AI) Brigades, down from 3 from the original plan and a change from the typical division size. Wait, two/2 “Strike Brigades” that that could quickly deploy anywhere with independent logistical footprint.
* Strike Brigades?! They want to draw in the 589 Ajax (SCOUT SV) Brigades to form these brigades. But Ajax was to be for the original 3 AI brigades, not playing with a new fantasy fleet concept. What will these Strike Brigades consist of? Say one of the existing AIs and one brigade from the Adaptable Force (AF), maybe 7th Infantry Brigade. What else besides Ajax? Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) formerly UV, formerly FRES UV. Ok. But what else? How on earth are they independent in terms of logistics? And if you need to deploy a division, will the Strike Brigade (single) become a AI?
* A further question: What happens to the third Challenger 2 Armour regiment with these Strike Brigades? Will the disband/stay in suspended animation or will they be re-organised into the two other AI brigades? Good that Challenger 2 LEP will continue but well tank’s gun is outdated.
* Warrior CSP will continue–will all the six/6 Armoured Infantry battalions get the CTA 40mm gun?
* Upgraded helicopters–expected, nothing new.
* “Two innovative brigades comprising a mix of Regulars and specialist capabilities from the Reserves able to contribute to our strategic communications, tackle hybrid warfare and deliver better battlefield intelligence.” From the AF brigades? What will these be? MRV-P centred?
* 16 Air Assault Brigade stays but any change?
* Field Hospitals stay in the Joint Force (Command). See below.
* No mention of the Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicle (ABSV).
* No mention of upgrades or replacement for the Defender planes or Gazelle.
* No core mention of MIV and MRV-P and other key projects that will replace soon to OSD assets.
* Of course, the magical 77th Brigade will remain as a soft-power enabler.
* Hey look, Commander Land Forces is now Commander Field Army. Great priority change.

The Royal Air Force

* It gains the most as it did in the 2010 SDSR. Junior Service wins.
* 20 “Protector” RPAS, basically MQ-9 Repear upgraded. Not new, announced before.
* Nine/9 PBoeing P-8 Poseidon, the expensive US MPA, to be based at RAF Lossiemouth. The usual cheers around, and it shows how incorrect Mark Hookham is. But 1) They wont appear instantly; 2) RAF and the Royal Navy have no air-launched Harpoons left so they can’t conduct ASuW 3) UK Stingray torpedoes and MK 11 depth charges need to be integrated onboard. Its “overland surveillance capability” is questionable.
* Amazingly, Sentinel R1, the formerly to-be-scrapped aircraft, will stay on “into the next decade”. Possibly they will help the P-8s or act as interim aircraft until the P-8s reach Full Operational Capability (FOC).
* They “el-cheapo: Shadow R1 will stay on until 2030. Really not bad for a propeller plane that could be taken up be Defender (theoretically). And the UK will get two more of them, bringing the total to eight.
* Sentry E-3 and the Rivet Joint (not Air Seeker!!!) stay on till 2035. Any upgrades darling?
* Hey, you didn’t want to keep the C-130s before. Hey! You are keeping 14 of the J models. Plus still aiming for 22 A400Ms plus just only 8 C-17ERs. Suddenly there’s the money to keep the C-130s? Ok, the Special Forces are really happy. More on that later…
* Along with the P-8s and keeping of Sentinel R1, you get this new drone that “will fly at the very edge of the earth’s atmosphere and allow us to observe our adversaries for weeks on end”. As Beth Stevenson points out, it is likely to be the “Airbus Defence & Space Zephyr high-altitude pseudo-satellite”.
* T1 Typhoons to form additional 2 x Squadrons, but only around 12 planes each, down from the 13-15 as seen in FOIAs like this. It is yet to be seen where they will be based given that RAF Lossiemouth will be choked full of planes.
* F-35s as above. But with the great projected order, isn’t it time to given all light blues and all dark blues to Squadrons and dark blue FAA Squadrons?
* Voyager Fleet: You get Cameron Fore One or PM Force One. Save money, give prestige it works out well. But please UK, don’t abuse it.
* The Future UCAV research project with France will continue. Yay..

Joint Forces (Command):

* Special Forces will get the most high-tech equipment. But with a shrunken active force, you would (still) struggle to get enough people to operate this. More later…
* Will you even have enough reserve special forces personnel?
* Joint Force Command, particularly, PJHQ, will get more stars (my FOIA). With a shrunken force, don’t try a top-heavy leadership. Won’t sound out well with the lower ranks.
* Space Operations Centre–a mouthful. For non-military means as well?
* How much effort will be place on cyber, since it is a Tier One threat?

Larger questions:

* So much of the SDSR and NSS is on equipment. How about personnel shortfalls? Getting women and minorities into the armed forces is only one bit to gain strength. You won’t get enough personnel for these major high tech assets–the carriers, the surface ships, the submarines, the F-35s, the additional Typhoons, the Army units etc. Personnel shortages hasn’t but must be addressed.
* When will the new equipment and assets be ready?
* Buying Yank stuff. Do you have a plan if prices increase?
* Will you really spend 2% of GDP on Defence and ho much contingency money is there?
* Any plans to increase, not alter, the personnel size? Or will you make cuts to unit strengths? No use claiming to have a division-sized force when the companies or battalions are under-sized.
* Will the joint model between departments (not JFC), ie. DFID, FCO, improve?
* How much change will there be for this Joint Force 2025 between now and 2020?

Next up, reviewing the Strategy…

PS: Did I miss anything out?

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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?