The National Security Capability Review, the Modernising Defence Programme: Common accusations

The UK since July 2017, has been conducting a National Security Capability Review or NSCRS. In brief, is a short revision of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), shaping this SDSR under the era of Brexit and new security threats. The 2015 SDSR was cheered by military people and defence commentators, however, the NSCR is getting constant criticism by this same group of individuals. The NSCR is viewed as a means to cut the defence budget and reduce the power of the British Armed Forces. Last week, on 25 January 2018, Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson offered a sub-review within the NSCR, titled a Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) as a means to placate these critical commentators. As the debates and criticisms drawn on over both reviews, out appear three common accusations.

The very first accusation and often heard of is the ‘blame DFID, it takes away money for the MOD’. Post 2010, the Department for International Development (DFID) aid, or officially Official Development Assistance (ODA), was ringfenced at 0.7% of UK GDP and then enshrined into law in 2015. This has caused much dissent amongst the media and commentators, who view DFID as a government department sucking away money that could rather be given to the MOD and the British Armed Forces. The reason for any decrease in UK military expenditure is often attributed to DFID and high UK aid levels.

The second, and this more relating to SDSR 2015, is placing the blame on individuals or organisations for not funding the forces. There the ‘blame HM Treasury review, MOD doesn’t get enough money’ accusation. This was often mentioned and brought up in a recent Defence Committee hearing.[1] Such an accusation may be separate or linked to the above review regarding DFID. If HMT Treasury as a whole doesn’t get the blame, it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who gets the blame; he is said to have little care for funding the armed forces. Another individual who is recently targeted for all the ‘low’ defence spending is the British National Security Adviser (NSA). In the Defence Committee hearing mentioned above, the questions appear to indicate that either the NSA has little appreciation for the MOD and the armed services, or that SDSRs should be mainly MOD-led and not by some civil servant who has never served a day in combat.

The third sort of accusation or rather belief, as just mentioned, is that defence reviews or SDSRs should be mainly about the British military and the MOD. An example is from this Telegraph article which asserts that the NSA is aiming to place more funding towards the intelligence and security services and away from the armed forces.[2] Another Telegraph article quotes the Chair the Defence Committee, who is relieved that the formation of MDP means a review lead by the Defence Secretary.[3] Clearly to such pundits, any defence review equals to a review about the armed forces, and that’s final.

All this of this accusation must come to a halt. First, regarding the accusation that HM Treasury or the Chancellor is not caring about defence. It is certainly not the case there there’s this evil organisation or politician, snatching money from the MOD and channelling to some other department. There certainly are threats facing the UK, directly and indirectly, and a good number of them can be addressed by strong armed forces. It, however, doesn’t mean, that you should spend to excess on the military with no regard for the economy.[4]

Second, it should be clear that ‘defence of the realm’ today, or even in the past, cannot just be addressed through large navies, massive armies and swarming planes. Intelligence, cyber defences, and well UK assistance for development do help address military and other security threats alone. If the MOD or defence ministers lead SDSRs or defence reviews, such reviews might even reduce the funding and role of UK intelligence services and weaken UK response and defences. The NSA may be a career civil servant and not always have a military or security background. Even with such lack of experience, he should not be characterised as one with no care for armed forces. It is right to critically analyse his performance, but not to accuse him because of individual beliefs.

The case of DFID and UK aid is slightly more controversial. I do disagree with a parliamentary law regarding aid. As for the aid target, it is outdated although there are merits to focusing on a percentage figure. On the same note, the UK also is focusing on meeting the NATO target of 2% of GDP on defence. Yes, there are claims the UK isn’t meeting that figure but as with 0.7% it is a target the UK adheres towards. In the bigger picture, the accusing of DFID fails to consider that UK aid and aid policy directly and indirectly addresses threats to the UK which complements military expenditure and action. Furthermore, blaming DFID often ignores why the department was founded in the first place and wishing the department to be dissolved would not stop the UK from providing aid for development or foreign policy purposes.[5] Commentators should rather focus on how DFID can add to British defence policy rather that use it as an easy target for accusation.

British SDSRs or national security reviews always generate debates from a wide audience. The constant cacophony of accusing DFID, blaming government officials or believing defence reviews are just about the military. The NSCR is much delayed and the MDP will follow suit. Both of them need rational debates and criticism, not long-standing accusations that do not add to British defence policy.

[1]http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/defence-committee/national-security-capability-review/oral/73765.html . Especially see Q39.

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/26/armed-forces-denied-extra-funding-cash-diverted-cyber-warfare/

[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/23/gavin-williamson-wins-new-defence-review-five-months-make-case/

[4] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/cut-to-marines-will-encourage-our-enemies-9dnnm92sj. The quote behind this paywalled article says “Political masters need to understand that the defence you need is dictated by your enemy, not by economics”.

[5] A good history of DFID’s creation can be found here https://www.cgdev.org/publication/reforming-development-assistance-lessons-uk-experience-working-paper-70 .

The Royal Tank Regiment: Back in the CBRN game

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

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

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

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

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

(see the full news article.)

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

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

(see the full parliamentary reply.)

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

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

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