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The Man Who Will Save UK Defence

July 19, 2010

British General Sir David Julian Richards

Like most world nations, faced with massive debt and unemployment, Great Britain is currently planning deep cuts in government expenditure to balance the budget. Not surprisingly, many of these will fall on the military, already greatly strained with replacing Cold War era weapons stocks, while at the same time fighting an ongoing counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. According to this report from Xinhua:

The Treasury, the finance ministry, revealed over the weekend that most departments should prepare for budget cuts of up to 40 percent. However defense was told to prepare for cuts of between 10 percent and 25 percent.

With cuts looming, and threats not going away, the nation is forced to decide between maintaining historical alliances, while at the same time assuring its sovereignty against foreign threats. The only program which seems safe are the most expensive, such as the Navy Trident submarine replacement and the 2 multi-billion pound aircraft carriers, that will create a further burden on the already minuscule Royal Navy force structure.

Some good news, perhaps even a breeze of fresh hope to Defence is the appointment of General Sir David Richards as Chief of the Defence Staff, the UK version of the American Joint Chiefs. Richards’ mindset has been reborne in Britain’s new small wars, especially that of the battleground of Afghanistan. Often called the Graveyard of Empire for the tendency of superpowers to fail in conquest attempts, there we are also seeing a rebirth in tactics and a refashion of Western armed forces to face current era threats. These more often than not include Hybrid Armies–Third World powers equipped with First World weapons which have managed to hold there own against immaculately equipped Western armies with the world’s most expensive and powerful tanks, planes and aircraft.

In pointing this out, General Richards proved in a January speech before the IISS he has learned the lessons of his tenure in the Afghan:

In the globalized world I have described, Afghanistan is both a great opportunity and a great risk. It is a testing ground for us and our enemies: a signpost to our global futures.

In stark contrast, is Royal Navy Admiral Sir Jock Slater, who recently encouraged his country to “look beyond Afghanistan”, in the BBC:

“It takes a long time to build a ship and to prepare the crew, so we really need to look beyond Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan must be our top priority. It simply must be and we’ve got young servicemen, particularly in the Army and the Royal Marines, who are losing their lives.
“We must concentrate on Afghanistan today but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that beyond Afghanistan is the future, and the future is uncertain.”

What  Sir Jock, along with the current Navy Chief Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope is certain about is they intend to go full speed ahead on the world’s most powerful and costly warships, the Tridents and aircraft carriers. But at the same time he bemoans the shrinking fleet:

“The carriers remain in the programme and that is great… but tied to that were 12 air defence destroyers and there are now going to be just six new Type 45s.
 Lord Admiral Sir Jock Slater was first sea lord between 1995 and 1998 “I argued for 35 frigates and destroyers, George Robertson reduced it to 32, and it’s gone down to 22. That’s simply unsatisfactory.”

Oddly the Admiral sees no contention between the Navy plans and ongoing Cold War era building practices. Again we recall the IISS speech of General Richards who seems more concerned over the Navy’s future than the admirals, whose procurement plans are forcing the fleet into irrelevance:

Operating among, understanding and effectively influencing people requires mass – numbers – whether this is ‘boots on the ground’, riverine and high speed littoral warships, or UAVs, transport aircraft and helicopters…This re-balancing could result in more ships, armoured vehicles and aircraft not less. But they will not necessarily be those we currently plan on.

Some in the Navy appreciate a fresh-thinker in charge at Defence, not hide-bound by traditional thinking. Here is a recent quote from ex-Rear Admiral Chris Parry:

‘The Royal Navy won’t have anything to fear from Sir David. They should welcome him as he’s got good experience of joint operations, he supports the carriers and he’s very balanced. He’s a very out of the box thinker and he won’t worry about telling politicians the truth.’

So while the old school is fighting for their last pound in the shrinking budget, hanging on to very costly platforms which are overkill and too few to manage today’s enemies, or even at risk from tomorrow’s foes, here is the new Chief of the Defence Staff calling for expansion, continued relevance, and a renewed sense of purpose from the Armed Forces. Comments such as these should give the soldiers, sailors, and airmen of Britain a renewed hope, they their labors to securing a free country have not been in vain, with lessons learned from one of the world’s backwater nations considered irrelevant until recent times:

“Success in Afghanistan is necessary for our future. Not because of its position or resources, although our campaign there must be placed in a wider and longer-term geo-strategic context, but because of the global consequences of our success or failure.”


24 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2014 10:44 am

    Very good information. Lucky me I discovered your site by accident (stumbleupon).
    I have saved as a favorite for later!

  2. July 24, 2010 9:52 pm

    Hello Alex Mk.2,

    the biggest potential saving is the £5,000 Million a year which we won’t need to spend in Afghanistan post 2014.
    Aircraft fleets are rather fluid and the numbers have changed since I last looked them up.

    I expect us to save about £2,000 Million a year from the following:

    1.Cut fast jet fleet to three wings,initially an air defence wing of 3 Typhoon squadrons and one flight,a bomber wing of 3 Tornado Squadrons and a carrier wing of 3 Harrier squadrons (total 115 frontline aircraft,52+36+27 rising to 124 frontline aircraft when the new carriers cone in to service,52+36+36).
    With the Tornados being replaced by Typhoons around 2015 and the Harriers eventually being replaced with F35s around 2020.
    Eventually,in the 2020s,the earliest Typhoons would be replaced by more F35s creating a second carrier capable wing.
    This eliminates about 100 airframes.

    2.Cut the transport fleet to three squadrons in the long term,1 C17 squadron and (eventually) 2 A400M squadrons.
    The A400M,C17 and even C130J represent a substantial increase in airlift capacity over the fleet of 60 C130Ks we had 20 years ago.
    In simplistic tonne mile per hour terms a C130J is worth 1.1 C130Ks,an A400M is worth 2.4 C130Ks and a C17 is worth 5.4 C130Ks.
    Thus a fleet of just 22 A400Ms and 8 C17s would have a capacity 50% greater than that of the 60 C130Ks which constituted the air transport fleet operated by the Royal Air Force in 1990.
    As the armed forces which the air transport fleet supports have significantly declined in size since 1990,it is difficult to believe that a 50% increase in capacity would be in any way inadequate.
    This eliminates about 16 airframes.

    3.Replace the 7 E3 Sentry and 13 SeaKing ASaCs with 10 carrier capable fixed wing aircraft,enough to sustain two orbits.
    This not only significantly reduces operating costs but it also dramatically reduces th need for expensive aerial refueling for the gas guzzling Sentry’s while also allowing carrier groups to have round the clock organic support and eliminating dependence on the handful of vulnerable 10,000 foot runways which the Sentry requires.
    Incidentaly,for the money spent on developing the Nimrod Mk.4 we could have developed a new carrier capable support aircraft to replace a variety of in service types and exported it to the United States too.
    This eliminates 10 airframes.

    4.Taking an holistic approach to tanker and strategic transport by,for example:

    Reducing tanker demand by buying the longer ranged F35C instead of F35B,using the aircraft carriers to eliminate the need for long range operational or ferry flights,replacing heavy tanker demad aircraft like the sentry with aircraft needing little tanker support such as the E2D etc.

    Using alternative lower cost means of providing tanking such as buying the tanker kits for the A400Ms (peak tanker demand and peak transport demand do not coincide so these aircraft can be double roled eliminating the cost of two single role types,particularly useful in the Falklands) and buddy tanking for the fighters for periods of low fighter demand such as routine peacetime recovery tanking.

    Buying sealift ships (sealift is far heaper than air lift) which can transport men and their equipment (instead of just equipment as at present) to eliminate the spike in strategic transport demand during the early stages of conflict and eliminate the logistical difficulty and tactical vulnerability of linking air borne troops with sea borne equipment.
    These steps may allow the current 24 tanker/transports to be replaced by as few as 6 aircraft rather than the £600 Million a year Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft contract.
    This eliminates approximately 18 airframes.

    5.Cutting the Apache fleet.
    The main reason for the existence of attack helicopters largely evaporated with the widespread adoption of precision weapons and targetting pods for fixed wing aircraft in the 1990s.
    Unlike fast jets and heavy armour,attack helicopters are unlikely to be viable for offensive operations in a high threat environment.
    In lower threat environments they are very capable but also very expensive.
    It is unfortunate that the British army bought into the attack helicopter concept so late.
    I would have liked to have seen the army getting it’s own medium transport helicopters.
    Other platforms can find and kill things better than helicopters can but no other platform can perform the helicopter’s fetching and carrying roles.
    Official figures suggest the cost of the Apache fleet is just under £500 Million a year.
    Cutting the current 3 regiments down to 2 would still permit a squadron to be sustained on operations while saving significant amounts of money.
    This would eliminate about 20 airframes.

    Last time I added that lot up it was a reduction of over 200 aircraft on the current fleet,some aircraft have been retired since then and the above comes to about 164 airframes with training aircraft reduced pro rata in addition.
    I would expect savings of about £2,000 Million a year from those reductions.

    The above would leave a fixed wing force with an air defence fighter wing,an expeditionary fighter wing (to eventually become a second carrier wing),a carrier fighter wing,a reconnaissance/surveilance/targeting wing and an air transport wing.


  3. Alex Mk.2 permalink
    July 22, 2010 4:12 am

    What are we looking at in SDSR?

    Typhoon and JCA are looking to escape relatively unscathed [Finally some sense!]

    – 4 Tornado GR.4 Squadrons & RAF Marham
    – run the Herc fleet ragged until the last A400M is delivered [many years yet] and scrap the lot [Shame because I liked the idea of an order of 2-3 British AC-130 on the back of the US order of MC-130J based gunships but if the Hercs are gone it’s not worth introducing yet another type] and ultimately by the time A400M finishes entering service even the mk.4/5 will be shagged out so there’s no love lost A400, Globemaster and FSTA will just about be enough to cater for the UKs slimmed down needs
    – 1 T58 regt (2RTR?) an AS90 Regt and 1 HVM Regt.
    – Withdraw British forces from Germany
    -Nail down withdrawal from Afghanistan [it has to be non-negotiable]

    whatever else needs to go will be sorely missed…

    One thing that wont be disappearing from UK budget in future years the British taxpayer would happily wave goodbye to, DfID; Budget of around £9bn and still increasing despite the state of the economy [IIRC the target is around £10.5bn]

    RAF as a separate service? as much as I can see the advantages there are always going to be times when Defence has to tighten its belt, splitting air assets between Army and Navy always means that when those times come troops on the ground and hulls in the drink are safe – fast air gets decimated; it’s not in the interests of the Army and the Navy to sustain these services although it may be in the interests of the United Kingdom. A separate air force is essential to maintain ANY description of an air force in defence reviews yet to come.

  4. July 21, 2010 6:29 pm


    X said:

    “The RAF is a service looking for a mission because its purported primary missions belong to the other services.”

    This sums up the problems which have afflicted the Royal Air Force since it’s inception.
    Prior to 1918 it’s roles were performed perfectly well by the army and navy.

    During the inter war years it’s senior officers were faced with the problem of justifying the additional cost of having a third service to do the jobs which previously had been done by the other services.
    Their solution was to suggest that warfare could be done far more cheaply by airpower than by those expensive,manpower intensive surface forces.

    Thus,to justify it’s existence as a seperate service the Royal Air Force focused on independent air warfare rather than supporting the army and navy.
    This gave rise to “air policing” in Mesopotamia which some historians blane for the revolt in Iraq and also to the “bomber will always get through” philosopy and massive investment in strategic bombing forces.

    Unfortunately,heavy investment in strategic bombing forces meant there was little left to invest in tactical air forces to support the army and navy.
    A single Lancaster bomber cost as much as five Spitfires.

    This lack of tactical air power led directly to the defeat of British forces in Norway,Belgium,France,Greece,Crete,Hong Kong,Malaya,Singapore an Burma.
    As a consequence hundreds of thousands of British troops were killed.

    What benefit did Britain from sacrificing it’s land and sea forces to field a heavy bomber force?
    Not a lot,as the Butt Report made clear:

    Defeat after defeat and massive loses throughout the first half of the Second World War due to the diversion of air power resources into a strategic bombing offensive which acheived next to nothing.

    Advocates of the strategic bombing campaign will suggest that it’s “second order effects” included diverting hundreds of thousands of German troops to defence of the fatherland.

    However,this benefit is miniscule in comparison with the second order effects of the lack of tactical aviation caused by excessive investment in strategic bombers.

    The entire armed forces,military industries,populations,economies,natural resources and geostrategic positions of most of Europe and the Far East fell into enemy hands due to a lack of tactical air power.
    Tens of millions of troops were lost to the allies.
    Hundreds of thousands of British soldiers,sailors and airmen died unnecessarily as a result.
    Millions of others also died.

    The consequences of a lack of tactical air power outweighed by several orders of magnitude the benefits of the strategic bombing campaign.

    It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the advocates of strategic bombing in the Royal Air Force not only brought Britain to the verge of defeat in the first three years of the Second World War but were also ultimately responsible for the fall of the British Empire which they existed to defend.

    A very high price was paid to justify the existence of an independent air service.


  5. July 20, 2010 6:10 pm

    Why should we pay the farmers? Last time I looked were we on the cusp of a global food crisis.

    I also have trouble with the idea of state building.

  6. criss permalink
    July 20, 2010 6:01 pm

    perhaps it would look better if the west persuaded the public, that we are not fighting a war,
    we are defending and protecting a government until that government is able to defend its self,
    when this is done the NATO forces will slowly withdraw towards to sea in the south, until the time comes to leave, this way you may well leave with your reputation in tact ,instead of your tails between your legs, in the future the west can and should [at will] attack and destroy any terrorist groups on mass , from a distant to help the new government,, we should b concentrating on the poppy field, perhaps the ground could be poisoned in some way that the plants wont grow, as for the farmers earning a living, im sure that it would be billions cheaper to pay them a wage, than let millions of drugs flood the west,, just an idea,

  7. July 20, 2010 1:20 pm

    Mike B said “That war never came, at least not with the Soviets we planned for.”

    I get annoyed when “people” say the Falklands was an exception; even though it was the war we had fought. But what you have to remember when it comes to international relations as in human relations sometimes what doesn’t happen is as important, sometimes even more important, than what does actually occur. Realpolitik drives a lot of decisions, it has to do. But you have to be aware of the subtler taints that colour events.

    Tangosix said lots, lots, and lots. :)

    I do have a little more faith in Dr Fox than I did in any of LieBore’s ministers. Lets hope he doesn’t do a Knott though!!!

    Good for you in that you have to remembered that monies used to fund A-stan don’t all directly come from the MoD vote. Most people forget that little impact fact.

    You are right how we manage airpower is a joke. Though I don’t like to quote Lewis Page the RAF has about 200 personnel per aircraft compared with the Israeli’s who have approximate 100 (I think it less) per aircraft. I know it won’t happen but I think the case for a separate air service is becoming more and more shaky. RAF transport assets move the Army about, wouldn’t it make sense therefore for them to own these assets? Then there is the RAF Regiment which despite what the RAF thinks doesn’t form a triumphant with the Para’s and the Royal Marines. They are good, but no better than any other line regiment. RAF spends most of its time as flying artillery; surely the USMC model would be better here. SAR, Nimrod, and a few strike squadrons could be pushed over to the FAA. And AWACS could be come a joint army/RN asset. I will quote Page again that RAF is a police dog unit with a large attached air wing!!! I will add that its other purpose seems to be host all (well a majority) of the armed services joint schools. The RAF is a service looking for a mission because its purported primary missions belong to the other services.

    You said loads more but I am tired of scrolling up and down.

    One more thing re T45. It will be interesting to see how much access UK tax payers get to their navy. It was interesting at the 2005 Festival of the Sea to compare how various navies allowed access to their ships. I bumbled around the South African ship unimpeded. Some wouldn’t allow the public to go down ship’s ladders forwards. I hadn’t been down a ship’s ladder facing the ladder for years and felt like a geriatric. But it seemed pointless to say that I was an experienced hand! A few years back at the Boat Show HMS Westminster was alongside but I didn’t visit her because well I have been onboard a good number of T23s to places the public don’t get to go. I was surprised when a few weeks later a club mate told me that conducted tours all over the Westminster. Yet for years now, well post 9/11, the general public at Navy Day’s were lucky to get much more than a look at the flight deck and a walk through bridge visit.

  8. July 20, 2010 12:01 pm


    Mike Burleson said:

    “Remember how America departed from Vietnam 40 years ago, thinking there were no lessons, going back to a conventional conflict it was used to? That war never came, at least not with the Soviets we planned for. Here we are fighting the only wars we have fought since WW 2, counter-insurgencies against Third World and increasingly hybrid powers.”

    Britain was fighting a “hybrid war” in the Americas between 1775 and 1783.
    A few years later in 1799 she became involved in a massive conventional war against Napoleonic France.

    Britain was fighting a “hybrid war” in the South Africa between 1899 and 1902.
    A few years later in 1914 she became involved in a massive conventional war against Imperial Germany.

    Britain was fighting a “hybrid war” in Russia between 1918 and 1920.
    A few years later in 1939 she became involved in a massive conventional war against Nazi Germany.

    Britain was fighting a “hybrid war” in Palestine between 1947 and 1948.
    A few years later in 1956 she became involved in a massive conventional war against Egypt.

    Britain was fighting a “hybrid war” in Malaysia between 1962 and 1966.
    A few years later in 1982 she became involved in a conventional war against Argentina.

    For the 303 years in which the United Kingdom has existed it has been constantly involved in fighting,conventional wars,insurgencies and hybrid wars.
    For economic reasons large scale conventional wars have been less frequent than smaller scale conflicts over that period.
    It is the historical norm that small scale “bushfire wars” occur often between major conflicts.

    However,these small scale irregular wars have always been followed by large scale conventional conflicts.
    This is even the case post Vietnam where we have seen major conventional wars in Kuwait,Iraq and Georgia amongst others.


  9. July 20, 2010 11:12 am

    Hello X,

    I should have said that I would prefer those savings to be spent on expanding the army but that option appears unlikely in the current financial climate.

    The purchase of a theatre level air asset which cannot operate on both land and sea is difficult to justify.
    We should not even consider buying any sub strategic aircraft which cannot operate from a carrier’s deck,we saw how expensive specialisation is with the Typhoon and F35.
    Another good reason for putting catapults on the carriers.

    If you get aboard a Type 45,see if there is any room left to fit torpedos and a towed array.


  10. July 20, 2010 10:45 am

    Hello X,

    I read one of General Richards’ recent speeches and was not impressed.
    However,I think Liam Fox might just be the best defence secretary we have had in a very long time.

    The prospect of cuts does not worry me,there is an enormous amount of waste in defence,the problem is that British forces have a long history of cutting badly needed units in order to pay for that waste.

    The current budget is about £36,000 Million with another £5,000 Million on top of that to cover operations in Afghanistan.
    I would be quite comfortable with a cut of about £8,000 Million a year by 2015.
    Including £5,000 Million saved by withdrawing from Afghanistan,£2,000 Million saved by cutting about 200 airframes we would not need if we did airpower efficiently and about £1,000 Million saved by sorting out the long standing mess that is British defence procurement.

    I see no need to cut badly needed frigates or infantry battalions as we usually do.
    We can save money without damaging our war fighting capacity.


  11. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 20, 2010 10:30 am

    Mike wrote: “Sept 11 2001 is every bit the game changer as Sept. 1939, and it started in Afghanistan.”



    I’ll bite – what exactly are the US and its allies supposed to learn from being attacked by a group of militant Islamists that hasn’t already been learned?

    I will point out that AQ was formed in Pakistan. And most of its founding members are from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other ostensibly pro-US nations across the Middle East. The point being that our enemies don’t know or respect national boundaries. They’ll take refuge anywhere where national power is weak (so-called “failed states”).

    The real enemy is after all AQ – not the Taliban. I believe it is in our national interest to seek out AQ wherever they happen to be, deal with them in a violent manner, and move on. We should only be concerned with Afghanistan as much as it is linked to defeating AQ . The consensus is that AQ has largely left Afghanistan and taken up residence in the ungoverned regions of Pakistan – therefore that’s where our focus should be.

    I agree with Scott B that the best option in Afghanistan is to manage the problem – not solve it. I’d go so far to say that this means limiting our involvement to advisory teams, Special Forces to strike AQ, and manned and unmanned ISR. We shouldn’t let Afghanistan fall to radical Islamists again, but we also shouldn’t bear responsibility for wholly reconstructing its society.

    I would imagine AQ is perfectly happy watching us bleeding ourselves dry trying to bring Afghanistan from the late 19th into the early 21st century. Similarly, our potential peer and near-peer foes (Iran, China, and DPRK) probably would love for us to stay there fighting the Taliban for another decade. And this is something we shouldn’t lose sight of – what has been and what continues to be the “opportunity cost” of our involvement in Afghanistan?

    Lastly, it’s interesting that you brought up Vietnam in your article, since this was another war in which we had a no real national interest, no clear objectives, and no exit strategy. In the end, South Vietnam fell to the Communists – and it did not impact our national security one bit. I might also add that the South was beaten by a conventional North Vietnamese Army using modern artillery and tanks, and not by the Viet Cong insurgents.

  12. Scott B. permalink
    July 19, 2010 8:54 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Sept 11 2001 is every bit the game changer as Sept. 1939, and it started in Afghanistan.”

    Something for you to ponder, Mike : COIN

    There’s a fundamental difference between *managing a problem* and *solving a problem*.

    Afghanistan is one of these problems that should have been managed, because it simply CANNOT be solved.

    Sadly, it’s a distinction the COIN *enthusiasts* haven’t been able to grasp so far…

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 19, 2010 7:22 pm

    “Should British forces stop preparing for the future for he sake of a war they are withdrawing from?”

    Remember how America departed from Vietnam 40 years ago, thinking there were no lessons, going back to a conventional conflict it was used to? That war never came, at least not with the Soviets we planned for. Here we are fighting the only wars we have fought since WW 2, counter-insurgencies against Third World and increasingly hybrid powers.

    And though we may never conquer the country in the manner we first subscribed to, I am convinced we have more to learn from Afghanistan than the recent Iraq conflict, and certainly more than Desert Storm 1991. The latter taught us little (as well as Iraq 2003) save that our conventional capability is overwhelming powerful, but the Islamists know who to adapt to this seeming superiority and fight on.

    Sept 11 2001 is every bit the game changer as Sept. 1939, and it started in Afghanistan.

  14. July 19, 2010 6:55 pm

    Afghanistan is unimportant; Islam isn’t the enemy. The best thing we can do to protect ourselves from the quarter is stop immigration. The Islamic world (Malaysia and Indonesia exempt) has nothing concrete. Some Arabs have some money so what? The only thing “we” should be doing in A-stan is the burning poppy fields. Pakistan is the new front which is a totally different proposition. It is has India on one flank and the sea on the other. As for Israel and the Palestinians what bearing does that have on our real long time collective security?

    Its China in Africa, Russia in the Arctic, and a whole host of other nations in Antarctica with which we should be concerned.

    I have no faith in Sir David Richards whatsoever; the petty cash tin is empty

    I wonder if that BAE UCAV will come in a carrier version; now there’s a thought?

    When I am in Portsmouth weekend after next I shall try not to worry too much about the future and just enjoy exploring the T45s (as much as we can) and visiting HMS Warrior again. The former built when my country had a grasp of both the importance of sea power and the technology with which to wield it.

  15. Hudson permalink
    July 19, 2010 5:34 pm

    “War is about economics as much as tactics,the Taliban has an endless supply of low cost volunteers and weapons funded by drug and protection money,much of it supplied indirectly by their opponents. The Taliban’s war has a very good “business case”.

    True, except that the business model is about to change there. The Afghans possess vast mineral wealth in ‘them thar hills,’ and it will be extracted from the earth for profit. The Chinese already have begun or will soon begin mining operations and will demand protection or supply it themselves. Their demand for security from the acolytes at the Red Temple prompted the Pakistan government to crack down on the extremists in a bloody siege.

    George F. Will has expressed the opinion that exploiting the mineral wealth of Afghanistan will give the Taliban another reason to fight harder. But I think he is wrong. I think the industrialists from East and West will shoulder the Taliban aside. It’s one thing to collect taxes from local poppy farmers. It will be altogether different to strong-arm giant corporations. The Taliban don’t build anything. They don’t possess the social skills to handle complex business operations.

    So while the war may “suck,” it might pay to stick around a bit longer to reap the reward. If the common people only receive a small percent of the hundreds of billions in mineral wealth, they will turn on the cheap Taliban and work for those who can pay them $100 per head, per Taliban head, that is.

  16. July 19, 2010 4:43 pm

    Hello Hokie_1997,

    I have learned just one thing from the conflict in Afghanistan,that politicians and militaries are prone to forget lessons which have been learned the hard way by the shedding of the blood of many young men.

    War is about economics as much as tactics,the Taliban has an endless supply of low cost volunteers and weapons funded by drug and protection money,much of it supplied indirectly by their opponents.
    The Taliban’s war has a very good “business case”.

    The coalition has small,high cost professional armies which cannot be afforded in sufficient numbers to establish “people control” because there is not sufficient benefit from this war to justify the massive financial commitment that would entail.
    The coalition’s war has a very poor “business case” and consequently they are about to get out of the “War in Afghanistan business”.

    This same lack of economic justification has condemned past invasions of Afganistan.
    Afghanistan can be secured – but it is just not worth the cost in blood and treasure.

    Western governments and armed forces have to relearn the lesson that war must be economically viable.
    It is not just about expending resources for no benefit.
    British armed forces understood this very well in the colonial era when war was made for profit but they seemed to have forgotten it in the twentieth century.
    Hopefully they will learn from the Afghanistan adventure but they could have learned more cheaply by studying some history books.


  17. July 19, 2010 4:24 pm


    it has already been announced that British forces are to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 2014.
    It is General Richards’ job to get them out.

    Should british forces stop preparing for the future for he sake of a war they are withdrawing from?
    Had they not prepared for the future in the past,they would have lost every war they had ever fought.
    Wars are fought with weapon systems which have been designed years before.
    For example,in the 1930s while the British Army was fighting the Pashtuns in Afghanistan,fortunately they had the forsight to develop weapons for future wars such as the Spitfires and Hurricanes which won the Battle of Britain.

    The Royal Navy’s decision to buy low cost expeditionary aircraft carriers like the Queen Elizabeth class instead of small cold war relic harrier carriers is the best example of British forces preparing for unpredictable future wars.
    Let us not forget that the new aircraft carrier’s annualised cost is £200 Million out of the Royal Navy’s £7,300 Million a year (2008) budget.
    That is a small fraction of the £1,800 million a year spent on surface combatants or the £2,000 Million a year the Royal Navy spends on submarines,it is less than the £500 Million a year spent on amphibious ships,less than the £300 Million a year spent on replenishment ships,less than the £320 Million a year spent on mine hunters and patrol ships,less than the £620 Million a year spent on the Royal Marines and little more than the £180 Million a year the Royal Navy spends on it’s survey vessels.
    It is worth remembering those figures next time someone tells you the decline in size of the Royal Navy is down to one of the cheapest items in their budget,the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers.

    If Rear Admiral Chris Parry is right then it is heartening that General Richards is in favour of these new aircraft carriers.
    The general’s reference to “high speed littoral warships” was quite worrying though.
    Perhaps he should do some research into the American Littoral Combat Ship debacle.


  18. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 19, 2010 3:58 pm

    Sorry — last comment was for Mike only.

  19. Hokie_1997 permalink
    July 19, 2010 3:57 pm


    First, I don’t think there’s a lot to be learned about future conflicts from studying Afghanistan.

    We have learned that attempting to bring a bunch of primitive fourth world savages into the modern era is probably not worth the time, blood, and treasure. No President or PM will likely make the same mistake in our lifetimes.

    Second, even if we had a vast armada of small gunboats as you continually propose, it’d be awfully hard for them to relevant in Afghanistan. Last time I checked Afghanistan was landlocked.

    By and large, the only relevent US Navy assets in Afghanistan have been naval air. And most of these have been launched from the decks of large carriers. Land-based maritime patrol and EW aircraft have also made a signficant contribution.

    Third, I think you are vastly oversimplifying Hybrid Warfare. Hybrid Warfare and Counter-insurgency are not the same thing.

    Frank Hoffman makes the case that you need a flexible portfolio of both high end and low end capabilities, since a hybrid threat will continually cross the line between conventional and unconventional actions.

  20. Hudson permalink
    July 19, 2010 3:00 pm

    “Success in Afghanistan is necessary for our future. Not because of its position or resources, although our campaign there must be placed in a wider and longer-term geo-strategic context, but because of the global consequences of our success or failure.”

    I realize this is a UK quote, and I don’t know how their ROE differ from ours. But…

    I was watching 60 Minutes last night, which had an essay on A-stan, following a U.S. combat team around in some no-name vil in the south. They spent most of their patrol searching for and exploding IED’s, which the Taliban pay the locals $10 to plant. One of the soldiers summed up the mission roughly as follows:

    “If we kill a thousand Taliban and injure two civilians, we haven’t done anything.” Another said: “Basically, the mission sucks. There’s no other word for it.”

    60 Minutes isn’t known for its uncritical support for America’s wars. But I wouldn’t want to take issue with those two infantry men and their views.

  21. Jed permalink
    July 19, 2010 2:50 pm

    The last box out qoute is the telling one:

    ““Success in Afghanistan is necessary for our future. Not because of its position or resources, although our campaign there must be placed in a wider and longer-term geo-strategic context, but because of the global consequences of our success or failure.”

    Absolute rubbish ! What are the global consequences ? First of all though, what are the definitions of success or failure in Afghanistan ? Neither the previous Labour Govt. nor the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition have ever actually clearly laid out what they think success (or failure for that matter) look like.

    Getting involved in so called “nation building” which is actually trying to impose “modern” western democratic principles on a people who have no history, or possibly even desire to live by them, in the midst of a 300 year old civil war between tribal cultures is safe guarding Britain’s security how exactly ? Killing Taliban who provided succor to 9/11 terrorist – no problem. But seriously, what are the global consequences for withdrawal ? If anyone could actually lay those out for us, we might actually agree ???


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