The United Kingdom Marine Corps
Not too keen on the idea when I first heard the UK Defence Chief Sir Jock Stirrup suggests the budget crunch might force a merger of his nation’s 3 historic military services. With this alternative proposal from Sam Kiley at the Times, I’m thinking: Yeah I could see that! First some interesting monologue:
The Government has missed the chance to modernise the military. Instead, as The Times revealed this week, the Government will continue with its commitment to buying two Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers at £5 billion (and £30 billion or so for support vessels). Britain will also keep and update its nuclear capability in Trident, the £10 billion Joint Strike Fighter programme and Typhoon at £20 billion.
These are superpower weapons that cripple Britain’s ability to survive as a military nation of any note. Our fight against a potentially hostile state, such as Russia, will not be fought on the North Atlantic or the north German plains. Both sides will fight using proxies — guerrilla groups, cyber-attack, financial sabotage — not with incendiaries raining down on civilians.
This is so true and also much like the crippling budget problems here in the US. They use the well-worn phrase “we must keep our conventional capabilities intact“, when what they are really saying is “we only fight the wars we are used to, plus we must keep industry happy. Jobs, votes, and all that!“. But Kiley rightly reveals its not about the tools so much as the people and a new strategy for a new era:
The best assets of the British Armed Forces are its human beings. So let’s turn them into the fast, lean, and cheap attack dogs of Nato…To do this we need to take our model from the American Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). This division-sized Leviathan of between 10,000 and 30,000 men has its own helicopters, its own jets, artillery, integrated warships and infantry. They train together and go to war together, mostly in the same uniform and cap badge.
The greatest Air/Land team in all history! Here is some commentary on the Marine Air-Ground Task Force via Wikipedia. Please tell me if this isn’t the type of thinking we need service-wide to counter modern threats:
The close integration of disparate Marine units stems from an organizational culture centered around the infantry. Every other Marine capability exists to support the infantry. Unlike some Western militaries, the corps remained conservative against theories proclaiming the ability of new weapons to win wars independently. For example, Marine aviation has always been focused on close air support and has remained largely uninfluenced by air power theories proclaiming that strategic bombing can single-handedly win wars.
There will be some tough choices made. They are being made anyway as the budgets shrink and the traditional services needed for the last century have less to do, or at least their old style weapons such as superfighters and supercarriers aren’t need as much.
Why do we have an RAF at all? No one outside the organisation even understands its ranking structure and in every foreseeable conflict pilots will be working intimately with ground forces. By sweeping all aircraft into one command its members would have more variety of work, more career opportunities and fewer snafus.
The Navy must give up on its carrier groups. The money saved would be better spent on the helicopter carriers, destroyers, frigates and fast riverine craft that we can actually use in countering insurgency, black operations and humanitarian missions. These are the vessels that are going to give us our global reach — because they can get places quickly and be put to use. An aircraft carrier is merely threatening. The idea that the Brits can reach into the heart of a regime and squeeze it will terrify our enemies.
Note that those who are calling on the end of expensive but fewer high tech platforms, in turn insist on the need for increasing the numbers of planes and ships, in contrast to the admirals and air generals who want to do more work with fewer platforms. Who could have imagined it would be the services themselves consistently advocating the shrinking of their own forces, making them irrelevant for 21st Century conflict? Yet, ironically they are their own worse enemies.
The reformer then seeks to save the armed forces, despite claims to the contrary. It only makes sense to tie the Air Force and Navy closer to the essential ground forces, as a team and in the spirit of Jointness. Perhaps this is why the War on Terror became The Long War, because we have been fighting with one hand tie behind our backs, with the services planning for and building toward divergent goals.
One thing former American Defense Secretary did right early in the last decade was cancel the Crusader artillery vehicles and the Comanche helicopter. Both these legacies of the Cold War kept the US Army bound with the wrong mindset for fighting poorly armed but surprisingly effective insurgents in the new century. The Stryker combat vehicle helped further clarify the Army where it needs to be in terms of programs and where they need to be as far as threats. Along with major combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s nothing like a war to put things in perspective.
The British Army is also benefiting from the lessons of war. If the government were to cut expenses down to the bone they just might fund the two new supercarriers the RN wants and more fighters for the RAF, but only at the cost of losing a war, the only reason to have military forces. Deterrence alone no longer is sufficient to stop a terrorist who easily side-steps border security, or pirates that sail unimpeded through over-stretched naval forces. You have to defeat terror at the source, and the Army is the spearhead of all this, but the other services must play their part, since extinction is the only other recourse.