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The United Kingdom Marine Corps

February 4, 2010

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.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Ahmed Abdulwaheed permalink
    November 21, 2010 5:31 pm

    I want to be a member of The United kingdom Marine Corps. What is the proceedure(s) ?

  2. February 5, 2010 10:15 am

    Hello Mike Burleson,

    Sam Kiley is another journalist who clearly does not know what he is talking about,take this statement for instance:

    “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).”

    The carriers actually cost about £4,300 Million including development costs,production cost for each carrier is under £2,000 Million.
    The cost will only go up to £5,000 Million if the ships are delayed.
    The Royal navy is buying 2 carriers to ensure it always has 1 carrier group available for operations.
    A carrier group will include 2 Type 45 destroyers,an Astute class submarine and a replenishment vessel,possibly with a couple of new frigates included as well.
    To ensure that 2 destroyers are always available to support the carrier group we need 3 destroyers,at £1,100 Million(production cost is about £650 Million) each for a Type 45,that will cost £3,300 Million.
    The future C1 frigates are expected to cost £400 Million each,the 3 we would need to provide 2 for the carrier group would cost £1,200 Million.
    The first batch of Astute class submarines cost £1,200 Million each (subsequent boats will be a lot less) I will add to that another £400 Million to cover redundancy as we would need to draw from the rest of the submarine fleet to ensure 1 submarine was always available.
    The new replenishment vessels would be unlikely to cost more than £500 Million each,with 2 needed to ensure that 1 was available,that adds £1,000 Million to our bill.

    Adding all that up gives a total of £7,100 Million,far short of Sam Kiley’s £30,000 Million.
    It should also be noted that most of those ships are already bought and paid for and in service.

    Then we have this statement:

    “Britain will also keep and update its nuclear capability in Trident, the £10 billion Joint Strike Fighter programme and Typhoon at £20 billion.”

    As nobody knows how many Typhoons or F35s the United Kingdom will eventually buy,how can Sam Kiley know how much they will cost?
    The cost of the F35 is also unknown,however,if we make the assumption that they will cost £75 Million each (the cost of the latest Typhoons) the 60 or so aircraft needed for the carriers air wing will cost £4,500 Million.

    Any serious commentator on this issue would however be looking at the total system cost for delivering air power.
    The purchase price is a small proportion of the cost of owning a combat aircraft.

    Mr.Kiley goes on to say:

    “These are superpower weapons that cripple Britain’s ability to survive as a military nation of any note.”

    The United States,with all it’s “superpower weapons” is not a “military nation of any note” then?
    Perhaps this journalist could elaborate on how a nation with armed forces suitable only for doing the dirty work in support of other countries foreign policy can be a “military nation of any note”.
    That is all the British armed forces will be able to do without those “superpower weapons” he disapproves of.

    Then there was this:

    “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.”

    Someone should tell Mr.Kiley that “incendiaries raining down on civilians” went out of fashion about 65 years ago.
    However,he goes on to tell us about the ideal force for dealing with these “guerrilla groups, cyber-attack, financial sabotage”:

    “We could continue to be able to deploy troops on our own account to Sierra Leone or East Timor in highly trained units and still fit neatly into a Nato general’s plans for a big war in the future. 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.”

    Perhaps someone could explain how cyber attack and financial sabotage are best dealt with by a Marine Expeditionary Force?
    Isn’t “This division-sized Leviathan of between 10,000 and 30,000 men (which) has its own helicopters, its own jets, artillery, integrated warships and infantry.” one of those “superpower weapons that cripple Britain’s ability to survive as a military nation of any note.”?

    Sam Kiley adds:

    “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.”

    So destroyers and frigates can be used to fight an insurgency in Afghanistan?
    Does this gentleman realise that half of all close air support missions in Afghanistan are flown from the decks of carriers in the Arabian sea?
    Without aircraft carrier,western forces would not even have gotten into Afghanistan in the first place.

    Apparently this journalist likes helicopter carriers:

    “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.”

    Without the aircraft carrier to protect the helicopters,they will be shot out of the sky by any small third world air force.
    I don’t think our enemies will feel particularly terrified by the prospect of shooting down all our unprotected helicopters.
    Perhaps the Mr.Kiley should ask the United States Marine Corps how they would fell about going to war without the support of the United States Navy’s aircraft carriers.

    tangosix.

  3. Jed permalink
    February 5, 2010 9:33 am

    Mike said: “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,”

    WTF ? The British Government stubbornly refuses to tell its citizens or its armed forces what ‘victory’ in Afghanistan should look like. How do you know you have won if the conditions have not been set ? How do you know you have been defeated and lost the war either for that matter.

    The current Government would not know a foreign policy if it smacked them round the face.

    As for financially wrecking the UK armed forces so that we can stick our noses into a hundreds of year old civil war, which will never, ever, be “won” by any one side, or even reach any sort of ‘conclusion’ that will be considered satisfactory by the west is just bizarre.

  4. B.Smitty permalink
    February 5, 2010 7:44 am

    “Air power is indivisible. If you split it up into compartments, you merely pull it to pieces and destroy its greatest asset – its flexibility.”

    Centralized planning, distributed execution.

  5. February 5, 2010 4:28 am

    Doctrinally the USMC is very advanced and actually has a very good history of innovation, CAS in Haiti and the Dominican Republic in the 20’s for example. The air component is often held up as a shining example but I think it is one of the USMC’s poorest areas, it relies very much on naval aviation and has very little strategic capability of its own and the actual capabilities are well behind the USAF

    That said, there is some merit in thinking about absorbing elements of the RAF into the Army and Royal Navy but on balance the application of air power of an independent aim needs ‘air mindedness’ and this would likely be absent in a land or maritime focussed arm.

    Here is a quote from General Bernard Montgomery to ponder..

    “Air power is indivisible. If you split it up into compartments, you merely pull it to pieces and destroy its greatest asset – its flexibility.”

    “If we lose the war in the air we lose the war and lose it quickly.”

  6. Michael permalink
    February 5, 2010 4:11 am

    Mike ,
    The fact remains that you used the CDS’s statement as misquoted by Kiley and if you knew that he had been misrepresented then you are as guilty as him.
    Whilst Kiley may be a very well respected journalist with his circle,I would argue that this does not make him an expert on national defence strategy or defence procurement although it suits your purpose to imply as much.
    As for your constant cry of ‘Scrap the carriers’ it’s not going to happen so live with it,in fact it would cost more now to scrap them than carry on building them.
    May be a good idea to scrap the lemon that is the F35B, and go for CTOL in one form or the other.

  7. Distiller permalink
    February 5, 2010 3:45 am

    Option B: The Euro-Wehrmacht. Cause the financial breaking point of the individual European nation-state armed forces is coming ever closer. Talk about a hollow force!

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 4, 2010 6:28 pm

    Michael, you’ll notice the focus of my article is not Mr Stirrup’s statement but the proposal by Sam Kiley of the Times, which is a GREAT idea IMHO. Will it happen? Very doubtful as you say, but maybe something can be salvaged from the idea to be beneficial to all three services, without them sliding toward Gomorrah.

    Mr X-Scrap the carriers, saving Trident, plus the submarine and surface fleet. It’s the only alternative.

    Also, I think the point was the Marine’s air-ground team, not its amphibious ability.

  9. February 4, 2010 4:08 pm

    Trident is cheap. £1billion a year to run, about 3% of the defence budget.

    And what’s £20billion? Most of which will be spent within Britian keeping people in jobs.

    I can’t see them scrapping the RAF; even though I see the logic of scrapping it. If they do do something it will more be likely for the RAF benefit giving them all aircraft etc. I could see the RAF losing the Regiment to achieve that. You mustn’t underestimate the political pull of the RAF. It is second only to the political pull of the Household Division

    But that article is fairy tale.

    As for the British Army being remoddled along USMC lines. Well we don’t have sufficient shipping to do that…

  10. Michael permalink
    February 4, 2010 2:44 pm

    Mike,
    Why O’h Why do you keep printing these complete fabrications, this article in the ‘Times’ is absolute nonsense and and a merger of the three forces was never even suggested.
    The motto of the ‘Times’ should be ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’
    Please see http://www.blogs.mod.uk ‘CDS on Services’ dated 4th Feb 2010.

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