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.

What you will likely and may not get from SDSR 2015

I never like rumours or hearsay but I guess it’s not harm jumping on the pre-Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015 bandwagon.

What will likely be mentioned (in terms of Strategy and Security):

Strategy:

* Government will mean 2% of Gross National Product/Income (GDP/GDNI) of spending on defence.
* Budget (for maybe just equipment) will rise to rise in real terms – 0.5% above inflation – every year during the Parliament (as stated previously in the July 2015 Budget statement )
* NATO will be the core alliance the UK will work with for eternity (or for the super long term), not the European Union (EU)
* Government will also mean the (oudated) Official Development Assistance aka foreign aid target of 0.7% of GDP.
* Focus will be on core areas such as the Middle East (Daesh/ISIS/ISIL), Africa (North and Central)
* Falklands Garrison will stay with no immediate change
* US will be the main strategic ally
* Lancaster House treaty will continue
* Focus will be on value for money–efficiency savings as MOD budget is not ringfenced–but value for strong output
*Linking to above, people such as the Reserves will play a core role in Future Force 2020

In terms of armed forces:

Royal Navy:

* 2 Queen Elizabeth-Class aircraft carriers will be built
* The Type 26 Global Combat Ship/frigate will be built
* 4 x Successor Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear) (SSBNs) will be built to retain the UK’s strategic deterrent.
* 7 x Astute Ship Submersible Nuclear (SSN) Astute-Class boats
* 3 x River-Class Batch 2 Patrol Boats (likely to replace the older 3 Batch 1 boats)
* The Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) will be considered to replace current Mine-countermeasure vessels
* Merlin and Wildcat numbers will remain
* The Response Force Task Group (RFTG) annual COUGAR deployments will continue, with either Queen Elizabeth-Class carrier joining the RFTG post-2020.
* Unmanned aircraft, surface craft (USV) and undersea craft (UUV) will form the main R&D projects in the future Royal Navy

British Army:

* Army 2020 will continue with some unit changes and some units changing barracks. All units in Germany will return to the UK.
* Ajax (formerly SCOUT SV) production and numbers will continue and stay the same.
* Warrior upgrades aka Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP) will continue, except that only 245 of them will receive the CTA 40mm gun/cannon (see this article). That is, not all of the six Army 2020 armoured infantry vehicles will gain the new gun/cannon
* Money will be set aside for the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (former Utility Vehicle, former FRES UV) and the Multi-Role Vehicle-Protected (MRV-P) programmes.
* 50 Apaches will be upgraded to the E version.

Royal Air Force:

* 20 new “Protector” Remotely-Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) will be acquired, a double of the existing number. Basically, updated version of the MQ-9 Reaper.
* F-35Bs will be purchased.
* Trance 1 (T1) Typhoons will be retained to create additional Typhoon Squadrons for UK Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). Tranche 2 and 3 aircraft will thus be free for air-to-ground operations (that is, Operation Shader) (see this link)
* Sentinel R1 aircraft will be replaced.
* Other Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft to be upgraded, except the E-3s.

Joint Forces:

* The range of UK Special Forces will gain new equipment.See this news article
* There will be a Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA), not just a new Maritime Patrol aircraft. (see again this link
* Cyber defences will be strengthened, and the Joint Cyber Reserve will be a key part of this.
* The 77th Brigade (I put this under Joint since it consider of personnel from all services and civilians from other ministerial departments join it) will be a create part of soft power or mechanisms to stabilise or prevent conflict.

These are some of the top issues and assets you may get from SDSR 2015. What you MAY NOT GET or MOST LIKELY WON’T GET:

Strategy:

* Government will not have spare cash or large amount of spare cash to boost the Defence budget beyond 2% of GDP. It may gain funds from the Treasury Reserve, the Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). The MOD may not have enough money to contribute to the Deployed Military Activity Pool (DMAP), which is a contingency fund within the CSSF, used to support the UK’s emerging in-year security, diplomatic and aid priorities.
* The UK may not, and has not recently been, the second highly country with the largest number of deployed troops in NATO. This level will unlikely be an issue in SDSR 2015.
* The UK will have to depend largely on the US and France should it find itself in a Iraq (Gulf War I mean) or Afghanistan-style conflict. Daesh seems to creating one. SDSR 2015 may not throw in money or personnel into this.
* Personnel shortages may be addressed but not solved in the short or long-term. It would mean lots of equipment without people to operate. More below.
* Chasing targets like 2% and 0.7% would be lots of changing goalposts and a fixation on money not quality. No change in SDSR 2015 for sure.

In terms of armed forces:

Royal Navy:

* SDSR 2015 will not increase personnel strength so that both carriers will operate simultaneously. In fact, snippets indicate that only 450 more sailors will be added to the Royal Navy’s strength. It might mean that HMS Queen Elizabeth won’t operate at full strength, even minus air group. One carrier at all times will most definitely be in port aka extended readiness.
* There will be no definitely confirmation that 13 Type 26 frigates will be ordered. Mybe there could be, but in “drips and draps”.
* There might be, as there always has been, delays to the Astute SSNs boats coming into service. Same with the never to be used Successor SSBNs.
* HMS Ocean may not or never be replaced as a like-for-like. The Royal Navy will have to depend on an aircraft carrier as a strike carrier and a LPH.
* The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) eldery ships may not be replaced like-for-like.
* The Royal Navy may only end up with the 3 new River-Class Batch 2 ships and HMS Clyde with the Batch 1 ships decommissioned early.
* The MHC project may be delayed.
* Not change in the Merlin HM2/MK2 numbers, so not enough for ASAC and carrier-based ASW roles.
* 809 NAS may have more RAF pilots than Fleet Air Arm (FAA) pilots

British Army:

* No change to Army 2020 in terms of units and personnel. Big adverse implications for units and the Special Forces–see below.
* There may be some removal of 2*s aka Major-Generals or even 1*s Brgadiers who don’t command units. But the Army may still be top-heavy.
* Army Command will change–Deputy CGGS and Commander Personnel Support Command, but that means more money for top commanders not units.
* Challenger 2 will be updated but may not improved or replaced anytime soon unlike this report. So this report is more likely.
* MIV and MRV-P may not appear in the short term.
* No change in CTA turrets or guns/cannon numbers.

Royal Air Force:

* No large order of F-35B aircraft. The orders may likely be in “drips and draps”.
* AMRAAMs may be kept in the long term and there may not be larger numbers of Meteor missile produced or ordered.
* As noted above, there may not be upgrades for all UK ISTAR aircraft or C2 aircraft such as the E-3 which is critical for QRA an operations.
* RAF may end up with more aircraft and still not solving its manpower shortage. This might affect not just the manned aircraft but the 20 new Protectors.

Joint Forces:

* The MMA or at least MPA will not be the highly expensive yet operational P-8 Poseidon. The yet unknown aircraft may not appear in the short term (say 2-4 years) after it is announced.
* The Joint Cyber Reserve may not likely become a full cyber unit despite cyber threats being a Tier 1 threat as identity in the 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS).
* Special Forces will et their new equipment but with the shrunken Army 2020 and Future Force 2020, the various SF units may not be at full strength.

So there you have it folks!!! We wait the announcement around 1530 UK time 23 November 2015.

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.

Arguments against Trident: Beyond moral views and usefulness

The Nuclear Information ServiceGeneral (rtd) Sir Hugh Beach and others have made a strong arguments against the retention and renewal of the ballistic missile system in the UK, colloquially known and “Trident” (after the US Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)). Their arguments can be found in this evidence paper.

Given the extensive arguments presented, I turn to cover another area not exactly mentioned. That is, the burden of keeping Continuous at Sea Deterrent or CASD. As the name implies, 24/7/365, there is at least one UK Vanguard Class SSBN patrolling somewhere in the ocean. A second is undergoing training (and ready to relieve the patrol boat when it returns), a third is under maintenance while a fourth is in reserve (may also be readying to relieve the patrol boat). This is taken from page 7 of this research paper.

Such tight non-stop patrols means that Royal Navy submariners are tasked forever to fixed on the deadly duty of ‘deterring’ others from other nations from launching nuclear/chemical/biological weapons, well mainly nuclear, against the UK. Each V-Boat is crewed by 135 sailors. And each V-Boat, unlike SSNs, has two crews to ensure unbreakable CASD–known as Port and Starboard crews. A look at an old Royal Navy Bridge Card for example, shows that at least Vanguard and Vengeance have two crews–I’m sure all four boats have. This means that 135×4=540 sailors are on nuclear deterrence. Given the need to deploy, train, maintain (and crews train while there’s maintenance) and be on reserve, it is highly unlikely the 540 sailors can be used for other tasks.

This means that this lot of ‘special’ officers and ratings are kept forever from executing conventional duties. In the ever pressing need for the Royal Navy to project British global power, 540 sailors aren’t able to contribute to normal patrols or respond to emerging crisis. This number of sailors is even more, considering that there are others in the operational management of the whole nuclear deterrent–for example, staff in Faslane, the MOD and elsewhere. Furthermore, in the latest era of cuts, this means that well, these 540 plus sailors and troops are sparred from retrenchment. That’s nice, but it also means that while you retrench other sailors, the 540 would be looked on jealously–“hey, we should have volunteered to be V-boat sailors, then we wouldn’t have been sacked!” Taking it from another view, the MOD are retaining 540 plus sailors that cannot perform duties such as daily patrols, Fleet Ready Escort or even homeland resilience–helping with the floods.

Another argument is that the V-Boats do not just carry deadly Trident D5 SLBMs. They also have four torpedo tubes for firing Spearfish Torpedoes. With four tubes, this means that there are at least eight (or ten) Spearfish Torpedoes per boat. So at least 32 Spearfishes are with the V-Boats. This is alot and it means that the Navy cannot use 30 plus torpedoes. V-Boats are not attack submarines can cannot act like one. Even if one wants to (take away the SLBMs), V-Boats are not of the design to conduct SSN-like missions. And again, in the era of cuts and calls for making the RN stronger, well you have torpedoes in untouchable subs which you cannot withdraw them from.

Back to the personnel angle, with four boats, V-Boats or its successor, this means feeding and paying around 540 sailors (if by any luck the next class will require less manpower). Again, hundreds of foodstuff needed to feed sailors who frankly, do nothing except know they have doomsday devices that can be launched. The pay may be better than other Royal Navy sailors, but again, with budgets tight, it’s a unsaid ringfencing.

Thus, personnel torpedoes, food and payment. And you still wish to have four nuclear-powered submarines with weapons that should never be used??