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Tackling Britain’s 20% Defence Cut

April 25, 2010

“Cleaning house” this weekend, with a few posts I couldn’t fit in elsewhere. Enjoy!

The Scotsman newspaper seems to consider a 20% cut in UK military spending a likelihood, despite campaign promises to the contrary and whoever gets elected. Specifically here is the prediction according to the editorial staff:

A radical proposition to merge the three forces looks unlikely to succeed, but cuts in troop numbers by 30,000 to 142,000 over four years are being seriously mooted, as is folding the Royal Marines into the depleted Army, while the Tories are already flirting with the idea of bringing the 25,000 troops based in Germany back to Britain. Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have said that they will update Trident and go ahead with two 64,000-tonne aircraft carriers at a cost of £4 billion, but the carriers in particular will still be hotly contested. So too will the £16bn project to buy a new generation of armoured vehicles, as will the pan-European A400M military transporter aircraft, the Typhoon and Joint Strike fighters. All but a couple of dozen of the Army’s 345 Challenger Two tanks could be mothballed, as could the AS90 artillery gun and Multiple-Launch Rocket System, a sophisticated weapon that is not useful in a counter-insurgency. The Army, which has borne the brunt of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, has privately lobbied for the aircraft-carriers project to be scrapped on the basis that it is a hangover from the Cold War, but a projection of power has long been a central tenet of the government’s defence policy. The Green Paper published almost two months ago as a precursor to the SDR suggested that both Trident and the carriers would go ahead, that the armed forces could play a greater role in combating domestic terrorism, and that ever greater military co-operation with allies such as France and the US would be crucial. The next government will also be constrained by contracts that can’t be altered. One area which will receive extra money, says former SAS commander and counter-insurgency expert Clive Fairweather, is Britain’s special forces, which have been particularly active in Iraq and Afghanistan and which are recognized worldwide as the best in existence.

Also the paper doubts the viability of the Trident replacement, and with reductions in funding this substantial, I’d have to agree with them. Naturally New Wars is against massive increases in defense spending for any nation until military procurement practices get with the times. I have made no secret what a shocking burden I think the Royal Navy has placed on the budget as a whole by building 2 last-century supercarriers. Their usefulness in regions of only benign threats has sadly distracted the admirals from what is important in warfare, a large fleet geared to tackle many threats, and they seem further out of place when compared to the abilities of the thread-bare pirates of Somalia currently running rings around the world’s great navies in speedboats and converted freighters. The logic of placing so many eggs in a few vulnerable baskets when China is deploying numerous carrier-killing missiles in a variety of platforms, should be questioned and often. But as we always insist it is cost that will be the ultimate end of large deck carrier airpower, and will certainly prove the case if cuts happen of this magnitude.

  • RAF-Keep only about 125 of the extremely capable Eurofighter Typhoons. Back these up with many close support planes, about 300 such as the Super Tucano plus UAVs as these are available. Replace Nimrod with long-range UAV’s such as Global Hawk. Perhaps some 100 C-130 Hercules could be afforded in place of the very costly C-17s?
  • Royal NavyCapital vessels:
    6 Darings destroyers
    8 Astute submarines
    2 Ocean class amphibious ships
    Flotilla vessels
    :
    12 guided missile corvettes
    38 offshore patrol vessels
    50 fast attack craft
    25 RFA Motherships (Wave class?)
    17 med. range conventional subs
  • Army-Concerning structure, the Army strength of 150,ooo should be maintained at the expense of everything else and if possible increased to 200,000. Some savings could be found in decreasing Cold War style equipment such as Challenger tanks, Warrior armored vehicles, Apache helos, perhaps sending them to the Reserves (?). RAF attack planes might replace the attack helos in the close support role. Think the restructuring of the regiments should be scrapped, and traditional names restored, but their equipment changed as required. Concerning equipment and tactics, think less “heavy or light” and instead mostly medium for Hybrid War.

More-Think Defence also posts “FDR – Wish Lists“, on this same subject. Interesting proposals!

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Guess who? permalink
    April 26, 2010 5:38 pm

    That force structure isn’t bad for a third world country…

  2. Jed permalink
    April 26, 2010 4:03 pm

    Mike, I have to respectfully disagree. You said: “if you examine carefully the type of missions the RN is performing in this post Cold war era, you could find numerous uses for these type of craft”

    I served in the RN during cold war and after. I have ‘fought’ in the littoral during the Iran / Iraq war doing MCM ops, I have escorted tanker convoys through the choke point that is the Straits of Hormuz during the tanker wars on a Leander class frigate, and I have deployed into the constricted and sometimes shallow waters of the northern gulf during GWI in a T42 destroyer. I fail to see where OPV’s, FAC’s or Corvette’s would have been better than frigates / destroyers in any of these roles, all of which are still undertaken, or may need to be at the drop of the hat in the gulf.

    As you know I also disagree with your small boats / motherships model to some extent when it comes to anti-piracy, preferring the small boat to be really small and fast, as in Combat Boat 90E and preferring the mothership to be an Absalon type ‘frigate’.

    You go on to say: “The Royal Navy has a great many foreign stations which could be defended with FAC’s. The corvettes and OPVs would displace the current crop of destroyers and frigates, that have no place in shallow water regions”.

    Erm’ no, we don’t ! (have a great many ‘foreign stations). FAC’s no good at all in the southern ocean for patrolling off the Falklands, and it appears that we don’t think there is a substantial naval threat to Gibraltar or the sovereign base areas of Cyprus.

    As for shallow water regions, as far as I am aware, the only shallow water region that the RN regularly deploys to is the northern gulf, and to be honest, knowing how itchy the trigger finger of the Iranians can be, which includes a shore based anti-ship missile threat, not just “asymmetric boat swarms’, I want a ‘real’ warship in that threat area, not an under armed OPV. I am not going to go into an anti-corvette tirade, I have done before and so have plenty of others who come here.

    Finally you said: “Like the USN, the RN maintains the need to deploy and defend assets in littorals regions” – I am not sure that is entirely true, RN doctrine and UK strategy is not entirely the same as US, even if previous Prime Ministers have been Presidential lap dogs. This difference (not just budgets) is why you have the 3,ooo tonne speed boat that is LCS as a carrier for multi-mission modules, and we have designs for a 2,5000 – 3,000 “FSC C3” which would struggle to do over 25kts, with less complex arrangements for adding modular capabilities.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 26, 2010 3:40 pm

    Jed, I think if you examine carefully the type of missions the RN is performing in this post Cold war era, you could find numerous uses for these type of craft. Pirates, smugglers, speed boats navies, even the bulk of the Chinese navy is equipped with FAC’s. China is considered a peer competitor with the USN.

    The Royal Navy has a great many foreign stations which could be defended with FAC’s. The corvettes and OPVs would displace the current crop of destroyers and frigates, that have no place in shallow water regions. They are Blue Water warships.

    Like the USN, the RN maintains the need to deploy and defend assets in littorals regions. In ages past, they did so with shallow water steam ships and gunboats. Today we have learned better so we send our diminishing number of Blue Water battleships to perform the same functions? No wonder we are shrinking, over-stretched, and suffering from project cost overruns!

    If we can just think beyond the Blue Water mindset, and stop trying to fit last century techniques, procurement, and strategies in an era where everything including the enemy is new, then all will be clear.

  4. April 26, 2010 2:01 pm

    One of the design drivers for post-war third (yes third) rate frigates was anti-FPB warfare.

    The “coastal convoy vs S-boat” is one of the areas of WW2 naval history that doesn’t get much coverage.

    All I want is 12 Darings with everything (CIWS, Harpoon, a-Harpoon-capable-Merlin, 2nd batch Mk41 VLS) and 12 Astutes. Oh! And flight decks for the Rivers. I am man of modest wants. :)

  5. Jed permalink
    April 26, 2010 9:41 am

    Mike, don’t mean to be rude, but have you been smoking weed ? :

    “12 guided missile corvettes, 38 offshore patrol vessels, 50 fast attack craft”

    Exactly what use would these craft be to the UK considering its foreign policy and its role in NATO ?

    50 FAC – WTF ?

    To defend us from German e-boats in the North Sea and English Channel, mmm’ bit late for that ! Perhaps to defend us from similar craft employed by modern Germany, Denmark or Norway – mmm’ they are all our friends !

    38 OPV’s – are you expecting another cod war ? Or shall we completely militarize the Falklands and base 30 of them “down south”. If politicians were brutally true with the public about defence spending, and turned the RN into a “Coast Guard” then 38 OPV’s would be reasonable. Or do you mean something like the Future Surface Combatant ‘C3’ design ? Multi-role 2,5oo tonne OPV / MCM / ASW ships ?

    Corvettes – puh-lease………

    Ahhh yes, of course 25 “mother ships” so we could deploy the Corvette’s and FAC’s – doh ! How could I have been so silly ……

    If I type any more its just going to get too sarcastic so I will just stop now instead :-)

  6. April 25, 2010 2:16 pm

    As we are talking about waste there is some fat in the MoD that could be trimmed to. For example the regional RFCA that manage vast amounts of real estate. Some of the tales of there rank incompetence are frightening.

    Also there is spending money and wasting money. Is better to say outsource the catering at RN shore establishments then spend money training fresh cooks because retention is poor due too much time spent at sea (interspersed with extended periods of leave due to other cutbacks?) Or simple stuff like buying the River Class without flight decks; yes a few thousand is saved on steel, but how much additional value has been lost through reduced utility?

    Are we going to get to play a round of fantasy navy and army? (I am sure I have forget somebody there….:) )

  7. April 25, 2010 2:09 pm

    I could save even more money by not paying money into the EU.

  8. Joe permalink
    April 25, 2010 1:56 pm

    Mike said: The logic of placing so many eggs in a few vulnerable baskets when China is deploying numerous carrier-killing missiles in a variety of platforms, should be questioned and often.

    Unlike the Bond flick “Tomorrow Never Dies”, we’ll ever see a situation where the UK sends the fleet to China, except in concert with other nations —- hypothetical end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario depending.

    Honestly though, if the Chinese one day perfect carrier-killer missiles and the Russians perfect the ability to detect our subs underneath the water, then what, pray tell, should we (or the Brits or anyone in the West) build???? After all, if subs and carriers end up compromised, then how long will it be before that same status extends to LHA’s, LPD’s, destroyers, to frigates, to…”_________________”.

    It seems we’ve arrived in an era where the iphone tag-line of “there’s an app for that” rings true when describing potential threats to Western offensive platforms. If so, do you factor that in when deciding how to upgrade the systems you build (countermeasures) or allow that fact that a threat exists to determine if you build at all? (No excusing of overbudget programs intended – separate argument)

    After all, as I once read, if the threat of destruction is real and it’s also a sign of ‘platform obsolesence’, then the infantryman has been in that condition for over 10,000 years. Pity nobody’s told him, though…

  9. MatR permalink
    April 25, 2010 1:05 pm

    I’m not an expert on this, but doesn’t that only cover mutual defence in the Northern Hemisphere? Hence no one from Nato (US aside) coming to our aid back in ’82? (If I’ve got that right, that is.)

    Lots of money in the NHS. I used to work in the NHS as an outside consultant, trying to introduce basic competencies amongst management. I used to leave work every day shaking my head at the vast money pit and incompetent leadership. It was rare to find a manager who understood even basic financial rules, and each year they’d introduce new whizzo schemes and drives that seemed entirely driven by PR rather than business sense. Most inept place I’ve ever worked (apart from the Department of Work and Pensions).

  10. Guess who? permalink
    April 25, 2010 12:29 pm

    I can save around 15% (£5bn/year) in an instant… Withdraw from Afghanistan… and another 25% (£8bn/year) just as easily, re-distribute foreign aid budget…. Looks like Defence spending has just increased £6bn/year under my regime…

    I can honestly say 20% cut doesn’t come as a surprise… not sure how long you’ve been running this gig Mike but did you ever post anything about 3 years ago where alot of retired generals were demanding a 50% increase?

    The real problem isn’t Defence spending, it’s NHS spending, the NHS is top heavy with more administration staff and doctors, nurses, cleaners etc… I read a few weeks ago that the NHS is the 3rd largest employer in the world behind the PLA and Indian Rail employing some 1.3m people… serious cuts can be made in the NHS budget without effecting the quality of service (or lack of… I’m so glad I can afford to go private!)

    Those that are still arguing about defending the Falklands there’s always the option of invoking section 5 of the NATO agreement

  11. B.Smitty permalink
    April 25, 2010 10:45 am

    Shouldn’t the Royal Navy be focusing on “the war it is fighting today” and not worry about some unlikely, speculative, future conflict with China?

    The two carriers are the only planned ships that can make a contribution in Afghanistan.

  12. April 25, 2010 10:40 am

    I should have read your link. I am sorry I tend to dismiss anything from Argentina……….

    The UN set a 200mile limit for Economic Exclusion Zones; the continental shelf has nothing to do with this limit. If Chile held all of Terra Del Fuego, it self a disputed land mass, they would be the closest South American country. What you have is a former colony of one European power trying to grab a territory belonging to another European power. South American countries are always in dispute with each other over borders. All states are artificial, but some appear to be more artificial than others.

    You have to consider the position of the “Malvinas Myth” in the Argentinian national psyche’. Many Argentina conscripts were more than shocked to find that the Malvinas didn’t look like Argentina, its people didn’t look Latin, they didn’t speak Spanish, weren’t Roman Catholic, and lastly felt far from oppressed. Ignored by London yes, but oppressed no. Their act of liberation was basically a lie.

    It is always good to remind South Americans who are confrontational about European interference in their continent about the fate of the South America’s First Nations.

    I will get off my soap box now.

  13. April 25, 2010 10:25 am

    juandos said “So does this mean that the Falklands will be left twisting in the wind?”

    In a word no. The magic word is oil.

  14. MatR permalink
    April 25, 2010 8:35 am

    I should have stated, obviously, that the new Royal Navy carrier(s) would have to be changed to cat and trap. My bad.

  15. MatR permalink
    April 25, 2010 8:29 am

    Mike, I pretty much agree with you regarding the need for a dispersed, networked, diverse fleet of smaller hulls. Ditto your Royal Navy wishlist. But I got to thinking (well, it happens on rare occasions…) –

    1) If you can’t use an aircraft carrier in a denied, littoral environment, you can’t easily get armored fighting vehicles in either – not with any serious logistics support, anyway. With modern missiles and reconnaissance drones alone, you can keep a troop transport ship one or two hundred miles off a coast, and not be at all sure that it’s safe. I’m afraid I honestly don’t know if breaking-up the landing force into smaller packages offers all that much protection from PGMs (is an HSV all that much harder to kill?) Maybe a bit of a grey area? (I’m sure somewill will set me right on this, just please be gentle…)

    2) Perhaps UK carriers, operating cheaper planes like F18E/F or Super Tucanos (well, cheaper than F35!) could act as large mobile ‘bomb-trucks’ – and that’s it, and we accept it, and don’t expect them to survive in a major conflict.

    You send in your relatively expensive, tomahawk-toting subs first off, to denude enemy air bases, air defences and C4I. Then you send in streetfighters to seach for subs and wear down coastal defences. Only then does the CV go in, and it goes in because it provides better persistent overwatch, ground support and intel than any other option in the toolbox, as well as pretty good helicopter ship-to-shore transfer. It’s explicitly not a ‘first day of war’ tool. It’s the tool you use when ‘shock and awe’ is over.

    Carriers – CV, VSTOL, Helicopter, etc – can put munitions on-station around the globe much faster than major ground forces (moving time of months). Compare the capabilities and the ‘stowed kills’ a carrier takes with it, compared to the capabilities of a transport ship carrying an expeditionary ground force (or, to be fair, an equivalent tonnage of transport ships carrying a ground force). With the onward rise of PGMs, twenty Super Hornets (current offer price from Boeing of less than $50 million each, according to Air Combat) can support ground troops pretty well. Tucanos, too. With ever cheaper stand-off munitions, air power can shred tanks and afvs (and has been getting really pretty good at it) but armor has an appallingly hard time striking back. Insurgent enemies, also.

    I’m not saying that we don’t need any AFVs, but spending money on a carrier and cheap(ish) bomb-trucks to operate from it might work out a much better deal for the UK than replacing expensive ground combat vehicles like Challenger 2 and Warrior that can’t get anywhere without the navy anyway. If we stop thinking of carriers as the ‘tip of the spear’ as the USN does, the UK might get a lot of cost-effective mileage from them.

    Still, that’s only my tentative thought on the matter.

  16. April 25, 2010 7:38 am

    Mike, we have been running a Future defence review series of posts for some months and the discussion has been excellent with a broad range of comments and contributions.

    We have examined the strategic posture of the UK, air, sea and some elements of land power looking at alternatives and options

    http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/category/fdr/

    The wish list post came about because commenters were bursting with ideas and wanted to progress at a faster pace than my posting would allow !!

    I have also set up an experiment to try and ‘crowdsource’ a Defence and Security Review for the UK using Web 2.0 applications, primarily using a collaborative Wiki.

    Its a bold experiment and very early days yet but I am actual quite excited about the potential, has anyone tried it on your side of the water?

    I have set it up as per the three RUSI options for the UK (Strategic Raiding, Global Guardian and Contributory) and my own version, which is an uncomfortable but perhaps politically more realistic ‘fudge’

    Have a look if you get five

    http://thinkdefencefdr.wikispaces.com/

    As for your own suggestions I will respond later

  17. juandos permalink
    April 25, 2010 6:16 am

    So does this mean that the Falklands will be left twisting in the wind?

    Fernandez Restates Argentina’s Claim to Falklands

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