Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"The SDSR is dead, though the [MoD] corpse is still twitching"

"The SDSR is dead, though the [MoD] corpse is still twitching"
July 6, 2010

The Roman scholar Cicero wrote some two millenia ago that "the sinews of war are infinite money". For the United Kingdom, entering a new defence review process under a fresh political administration, the room for manoeuvre is regrettably narrow.

The groundwork conducted in late 2009 under the auspices of the 2010 Green Paper coupled with the last significant review - the Strategic Defence Review or SDR (Cm3999) from which the new Strategic Defence and Security Review gets its name is largely completed before it has started.

Retired service chiefs are lining up to fill the airwaves and newspaper columns - some of whom were less vigorous in defending service interests whilst in uniform. However the stock market bell has already tolled for the Treasury and British Defence efforts with Cicero having been proven correct.

I was originally going to title this column, "Its about Power Projection, stupid" playing on the 1992 US Election line by President Bill Clinton, however I felt the Financial Times article concerning the future of NATO written in 1994 was somewhat more telling.

Once what has been already known has been re-analysed and presented in an exciting new format the truth remains - international security threats to the United Kingdom in a globalised world are going to emerge far from the country's shores. Given the police force backed by MI-5 can deal with domestic threats to 'homeland security' through the pragmatic (re: cheap) additions of better communication or a "crime fighting C4ISTAR" the only doctrinal effect for the armed forces at the Grand Strategic level is to be able to deploy far-afield. Therefore if one believes in this logic, and of course that political demands on the armed forces will never diminish then it could be suggested the outcome of the SDSR in terms of force structures is as follows;

a> Salami slicing - each of the services takes 'an equal measure of (budgetary) pain' - long term outcome = Strategic decline on the international stage.

b> 'Pragmatic radical' approach -

British Army - Cut the number of battalions. Up training and readiness. Increase size of the Parachute Regiment. Basically the objective should be to grow the pool of specialist labour from which special forces can be grown and cut the more generalist units - sad from the perspective of history and tradition but true and desperately needed. The Army also needs to be more like the Marines - everyone needs to be able to use a rifle - in fact regular range practice should occur all the way upto the top. Less dining with knife and fork and more rounds heading downrange.

RAF - reduce number of stations, infrastructure costs, reduce number of airframe types - retire Tornado ASAP, rationalise 'Smaller transport aircraft' listed on the RAF website

Royal Navy - increase size of the Royal Marines. Focus on a class of smaller, more numerous vessels to enable a presence near the trouble spots of the world enabling faster response in times of crisis. Cancel aircraft carriers and either refit existing three vessels to extend service or go back to the historical roots of carrier aviation and add launch pads to RFA fleet (which becomes integrated into the RN proper). Trade two 60,000 aircraft carriers for half a dozen. The concept of the 'pocket aircraft carrier' is one which is needed now.

Nuclear deterrent - switch from Trident to cruise missile (Tomahawk based) deterrent on all SSN's and cancel successor program to Vanguard Class. Although slower and more vulnerable than Trident the outcome is ultimately largely the same in effects terms. Trident missiles can always be based on land (as per France) for a few decades to come.

Procurement establishment - The lack of funds has led to a swelling of the procurement system to man ever-more labrynthine procurement processes to put off spending scarce resources. Time for DE&S to shrink by 75% in manpower terms over the next four years and to procure solely on the basis of the UOR methodology, cut the bureaucracy and free up resources for the front line (not to mention speed acquisition).

Main Building - review the scale of the Main Building enterprise during the Second World War - and set as an objective returning to it from the perspective of 'lean strategic management'. Computerisation gives us immense reach as individuals and therefore should save on labour requirements. Move Main Building out of London and put headquarters into the old war office building - "what does not fit, goes" should be the modus operandi.

Senior Ranks - time to take the hatchet to number of senior grades in the services and reduce the numbers of 1 star ranks and above very substantially. Senior command seems increasingly focused on PR spin and whitehall intrigue (MOD, Industry, HCDC appearances etc.) on the cocktail party circuit than it is on 'bayonet practice'.

The approach outlined above will likely not happen or would be piecemeal, watered down by political and service interests. The reality is that like a business, what got the MOD to where it is in terms of feats of arms, great management etc. will not necessarily help them evolve in the future. Unwillingness to collectively take pain in certain areas will condemn the British Armed forces to a mediocre level of capability and ultimately diminish British influence in the modern world.

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