Saturday, August 19, 2017

Building on strengths

Shortage of resources require coherence and joined up thinking at the budgeting table. Pursuing vague “revolutionary” concepts such as Land Strike while knowing full well that there is no chance to ever be able to afford the equipment needed to make it remotely workable is simply suicidal, particularly while the SDSR 2015 is already under a new review, exquisitely money-driven. Nobody in their sane minds can believe this new review has actually anything to do with supposedly changed geopolitics due to Brexit. It is about money, and they might as well admit it and show some honesty for once.
It is urgently time to go back to basics and set out a coherent way forwards that builds on the strengths the british forces already posses, rather than continuing to disorderly knock pieces off them in order to fit into the annual budgeting circle while pursuing two hundred different programmes, most of which end in nothing but sunk costs (FRES, LIMAWS, Soothsayer, FRES UV, SMART, FIST, Fire Shadow etcetera, I’m looking at you). The modern day army, although of course not entirely for faults of its own, has been particularly guilty of this sin.
Budget delegation is in many ways a welcome development, but asking each service to generate “savings” from within their budget without considering the wider implications is a recipe for further disasters.
A general direction of travel needs to be decided and then defended. It must be coherent and joined up: all services need to be working according to the same strategic guidelines. At the moment, this is not the case, as the talk of split buy for the F-35 or the dismantling of littoral and amphibious capability demonstrate.

Aim of the UK’s defence policy should be to preserve, as much as possible, the ability of the country to take independent action where absolutely necessary and within a realistic scale. Second, the equipment and force structure choices should be oriented towards making the UK a Leader within NATO, by making it a perfect candidate framework nation for the construction of multinational forces for more complex operations. UK policy makers in recent times like to remind us that future operations are likely to be coalition efforts, but the actions do not quite match the rhetoric as cuts and corner-cutting have far too often hit areas which were of great importance alliance-wide.
It is the case, notably, of the maritime patrol aircraft cut, thankfully eventually corrected, but also of Sentinel R1 (a unique capability in Europe), amphibious shipping and logistic shipping.

What does the UK bring to the table that is unique, or particularly valuable; and how can it get the most from what it has? This should be the question at the base of an honest review.
Excluding the nuclear deterrent and the SSNs (by far the biggest influence buyers, as well as areas with a rather solid plan already in place), the UK’s areas of excellence include:

Special Forces. Highly respected and valued, the british special forces are a powerful strategic asset and an influence buyer. Repeatedly, government has promised to boost them, but progress cannot be measured from the outside for lack of information.
What can be seen is, however, not actually encouraging: as will be discussed further below, the SDSR commitment to providing long-range vertical mobility (air refuel-able) to the Special Forces seem to have died in early stealth cuts. Another problem without an evident solution is 657 AAC, which is part of the Joint Special Forces Support Wing and provides support in the form of light assault helicopters (Lynx AH9A at the moment). 657 AAC is planned to move into Yeovilton, which suggests that it will probably convert to Wildcat when the last 8 AH9A are withdrawn from service as soon as April 2018.
Director Special Forces was almost saddled with 8 “Light Assault” Wildcat in 2011, of which 4 would have been additional new buys and 4 conversions of airframes from the 34 purchased for Army and Royal Marines. That project was announced, costed, and then killed without explanation. Reportedly, Special Forces were not happy with the helicopter.
Now, however, 657 AAC might end up being not an additional Wildcat LAH Sqn, but just one of 4 (?) Army sqns, equipped with the Battlefield Reconnaissance variant, with little or no mods. In other words, Director Special Forces is getting a far worse solution than the one it reportedly turned down in 2011.
The UK Special Forces Support Group (1 PARA) also recently disbanded one of its companies, removing a platoon from all Strike Coys and redistributing the Fire Support Groups to partially compensate.
21 and 23 SAS, the reserve formations, underwent a change of role as well, towards Human Environment Reconnaissance and Analysis. An important role, but the impact that this change had on availability of personnel for more “traditionally defined” tasks is unclear.
In addition, Special Forces are still waiting for the full range of mods and additions to the C-130Js under Project HERMES. Ever since the C-130Ks configured for SF work went out of service, there has been a gap in capability.
Not a reassuring picture. We have to hope that the "black" programmes, the ones we don't hear about, are doing better, because for the rest, facts do not match rhetoric. 

Air Mobility. The UK has a very valuable C-17 fleet which is unique in Europe. There is a NATO mini-fleet of 3 C-17, but as helpful as that can be, it is clearly not enough. The combination of 8 C-17, 22 A400M, 14 stretched C-130Js and 9 (14 as max effort) Voyagers is a powerful one, and one of the most valuable assets that the UK can offer to its allies. A capability valued by allies means influence.
France and Germany will have much greater numbers of A400M, but no C-17s, and there are things that only the latter can do. France experienced in full the difficulties caused by lack of strategic airlift while transferring forces into Mali for Op SERVAL. 8 C-17s are too few to solve the problem entirely, but they certainly mean the UK is better positioned.

The UK also is going to have a capable, large fleet of 60 Chinook, which represent a lot of lift capability for Air Manoeuvre of land forces. 23 Puma HC2 and 34 Wildcat also help, although a greater number of more capable medium helicopters would be desirable.
It also possesses a capable fleet of 50 Apache which, considering the Tiger’s constant woes, are arguably by far the most capable attack helicopter force in Europe.

Heavy airdrop has been gapped 
16 Air Assault has much reduced access to light armour these days

A lot of money has been expended to build up this air mobility fleet, yet a succession of corners have been cut, denying the full exploitation of this sizeable investment.
In particular:

-          16 Air Assault Brigade has been cut back in capability as well as size. The gapping of Heavy Airdrop capability and the failure to progress with the adoption of precision airdrop mean that the brigade’s already limited parachute capability is essentially virtual unless the Americans drop the heavy bits (vehicles, L118 Light Guns etcetera).
-          The acquisition of long-range vertical manoeuvre assets seem to have been quietly cancelled once more. Although the SDSR was deliberately vague about providing longer reach to Special Forces, it was pretty clear that two options were on the table: MV-22 Osprey, which could refuel in flight from Voyager KC3s; or the retrofit of air refueling probes to at least part of the Chinooks and the fitting out of a couple of short C-130Js to serve as tankers. None of the two options seem destined to materialize.
-          The failure of efforts to purchase internally transportable vehicles that would give air mobile troops far greater mobility after reaching the LZ inside Chinooks.
-          The Voyager’s lack of a boom as well as the choice not to invest in a reconfigurable top-deck, which would have made it far more capable by opening up huge cargo possibilities.

Foxhounds of 2 Gurkha Rifles are air landed in support of 16 Air Assault during ex Joint Warrior

Air mobility, including air manoeuvre of ground troops via Chinook and Puma lift, is a partial excellence. The UK is an extremely good position under some points of view and in an extremely poor one under others. At the moment, it is an unfinished work.
In recent times there have been some welcome developments thanks to the end (op TORAL requirements aside) of the very demanding Afghanistan air bridge. In particular, the RAF has finally started to employ the tactical capabilities of the C-17instead of employing it just to lift heavy / high volume cargo from A to B. Airdrops and tactical air landing have been opened up, and 16 Air Assault brigade has experimented with “air-mechanized” operations by inserting small “packs” of Foxhounds (apologies for the pun) in support of the air assault task force during the last Joint Warrior.

This is an area of excellence which:

-          Enables UK long-range operations, not just as part of a coalition, but, at limited scale, in substantial independence
-          Is valuable to allies and, in its C-17 part, unique in Europe (which is a bonus in light of the need for influence during the Brexit process)
-          Is valuable to the main ally, the US, and can be a vector for further integration

As such, it is a battle-winning and influence-gaining asset which deserves greater attention, instead of being repeatedly run into the ground by small money-savings measures that add up to huge losses of capability.

A more detailed look into the Air Mobility area is here and here.

ISTAR. The UK has the most complete air-breathing ISTAR force outside of the US Air Force. This asset is highly valued by the US, as evidenced by the extremely close relationship in operating the Rivet Joint element. The 3 UK aircraft complement a fleet of just 17 in US service, making it an important contribution in terms of mass as well.
Protector, if “at least 20” are effectively put into service as promised by the SDSR, will represent the largest MALE fleet in Europe and the most capable, at least until the European MALE 2020 project delivers results. Something that it might or might not do.
The 9 P-8 Poseidon are a critical asset for the safety of the UK, which remains as exposed as ever to submarine warfare in the, perhaps unlikely but certainly catastrophic, eventuality of conflict against Russia. The new MPA fleet will also represent a large portion of Europe’s capability in the MPA sector, which is suffering NATO-wide and was officially listed already a few years ago as one of the critical weaknesses to correct.
And Sentinel R1 is as precious and unique as it is unlucky and constantly targeted by cuts guided by short-termism of the worst kind. The reduction of the fleet to just 4 aircraft and, more importantly, the marked reduction in the number of crews have already determined, or at least undoubtedly played a part in the gapping of this capability in Operation SHADER.
The UK is extraordinarily weak in terms of satellites. It has no radar, optical or SIGINT satellites of its own, relaying on the data supplied by US constellations instead. Even a good portion of the communications capacity comes via participation in the US AEHF constellation.

Sentinel R1: a unique, praised capability facing a never ending struggle for funding 

The ISTAR fleet is another key excellence. Cutting back on the number of Sentinel R1 and crews is an example of damaging short-termism determined by lack of joined-up thinking. The RAF budget holder had to save money somehow, and I’m willing to believe this was the least damaging options among those at his disposal, but it remains, overall, a disproportionately negative outcome.
It is also very worrying and disappointing that there is still complete uncertainty about how to preserve this unique battlefield surveillance and targeting capability post 2021. It is true that, by then, capable SAR radars with Moving Target capability will be widely available (on Protector, Watchkeeper, F-35 and on Typhoon once it is retrofitted with the CAPTOR E AESA radar), but none of these is a full Sentinel R1 replacement all the same. 

ISTAR ticks all the boxes again:

-          It enables UK operations, in coalitions and in independence
-          Is valuable to allies and, in several ways, unique in Europe
-          Is valuable to the main ally, the US, and can facilitate further collaborations (with Norway and beyond, particularly thanks to P-8)

Long range strike. A multi-pronged capability made up by:

-          Tomahawk
-          Land-based aviation with Storm Shadow
-          Carrier based aviation
-          Stealth

The UK will be the only country in the European side of NATO to tick all boxes at once / in significant numbers, thanks to the F-35. This area of absolute excellence is not without its own problems, with the main one being the tiny stock of Tomahawk and the relative poverty of platforms able to fire it. The Type 26 will introduce the ability to fire long-range missiles from surface vessels for the first time, but Tomahawk by then will be out of production unless US plans change or the UK lodges in an order before it is too late.

In the future, Tomahawk and Storm Shadow (and Harpoon) could be replaced by the same weapon, the new SPEAR 5 / Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon to be jointly developed with France. Entry into service is not expected until the 2030s, however, with the Storm Shadow OSD being 2032.
Much too late to avoid a lot of problems for the Navy, forced to lose Harpoon already next year and facing the dilemma of how to arm the Type 26 in the meanwhile.
Long range strike capability could be expanded by putting cruise missiles on P-8 Poseidon or even by resurrecting the idea of ramp-dropping Storm Shadows from the back of cargo aircraft.
Future long-range strike should also be able to relay on the FCAS unmanned aircraft in development in collaboration with France.
This area is in relative health, despite the cancellation of Storm Shadow integration on F-35B. Unfortunately, the integration would only become effective much too close to the missile’s OSD to truly make sense, so spending money on it is not, in any scenario, wise. SPEAR 5, however, should definitely find its way on F-35B and Type 26.
The worst problem in sight is the dramatic firepower gap on Royal Navy warships with the loss of Harpoon.

Carrier Enabled Power Projection

For a long time, the UK has talked of the new carriers in terms of Strike, as that was the fashion of the moment. The truth is that “Carrier Strike” understates what carriers are for, reducing them to one mission when in reality they have many. The “Strike” capability of the new carriers come from their size: they can carry enough fuel, stores, weapons and aircraft to generate enough sorties to be a true power projection tool, unlike the Invincibles, which arguably achieved all they could and then some, but could never go past the limits imposed by their size.
Carrier Enabled Power Projection better summarizes what the carriers really are about: they ensure the fleet has the air support it needs to operate in the congested, cluttered, contested, connected and constrained environment of current and future warfare. Without organic air power, a fleet cannot venture far from the air cover coming from land. Without a fleet capable to go into a contested environment, far from home and potentially far from friendly land bases. there can be no power projection at any serious  scale.
With the Navy planning to have one carrier at Very High Readiness (5 days notice to move) and the other at 20 to 30 days notice to move, continuous carrier capability is a realistic aim.
The programme for the first two squadrons of F-35B and for Crowsnest is now firm. The biggest risk for the realization of the CEPP’s promises regards the formation of the F-35B squadrons number 3 and 4. These are threatened by the “split buy” idea which could see the RAF go for the F-35A, in what would a sublime example of single service reasoning.
Unfortunately, to the F-35 budget holder (the RAF), the F-35A is alluring because it is cheaper than the B, and has (potentially) a larger internal, stealth payload and a bit more range. If joined-up thinking doesn’t win the day, there is every possibility that CEPP will be compromised for little to zero actual gain: the RAF does not own or plan a weapon for which the larger weapon bays of the A are both necessary and sufficient. SPEAR 5 will almost certainly be too large for internal carriage regardless, while all other weapons in service or planned do not need a larger bay.
The split buy must be avoided at all costs, at least until the B fleet doesn’t comprise a fleet of 4 frontline squadrons, which represent the threshold for a realistic, self-supporting force.

A more detailed explanation of the dangers of the split buy idea is here.

The Royal Navy’s effort should be focused on its Joint Expeditionary Force – Maritime, centered on the carriers and including the amphibious group. The UK has the tools needed to put to sea an “Expeditionary Strike Group +” , more capable than those fielded by the US Navy, which are centered on a LHA / LHD, a LPD, a LSD and some 3 escorts. The UK group can buy substantial influence:

-          Its global deployment is a statement of intention that is not matched by any other short-term deployment form
-          It is valued by the US as it helps cover all stations, enabling the progressive shift of US attention to the Pacific
-          It represents a capability that, in Europe, only France can, in part, replicate

Royal Fleet Auxiliary

Too often overlooked, the RFA is an extremely valuable tool and one that truly sets the Royal Navy apart from other European navies. The capability and capacity of the RFA is unmatched in the European side of NATO. It is the tool that enables the Royal Navy to have blue water and expeditionary possibilities.
Unfortunately, some of its most valuable assets have been lost or risk being lost without replacement: RFA Diligence had no equal in Europe, yet it was sacrificed to short-termism in the hunt for savings. RFA Argus risks suffering the same fate in a few years time.
Two Point-class Ro-Ro sealift vessels and one Bay-class LSD were also lost to cuts, and the loss in capability far exceeds the savings.

A design proposed for the Solid Support Ship, including a well dock for landing craft for increased amphibious support capability 

Particularly important to the RFA’s future is the nascent Solid Support Ship programme, which aims to build 3 ships that will replace Fort Austin, Fort Rosalie and Fort Victoria around the middle of the 2020s. Critical enablers for complex CEPP operations, these vessels should represent a priority in planning and their design should include Joint considerations, primarily through the provision of support to forces ashore, to the greatest possible scale.
The RFA is a key enabler for independent and coalition operations. It allows the UK to support multi-national efforts at reach and thus represents an influence-buying asset.

Amphibious capability

Amphibious capability is a key element within Carrier Enabled Power Projection, but it deserves to be detailed further.  
The future of this capability is particularly concerning as it is being squeezed to death by lack of joined up thinking and budgetary short-termism. With the budget holder (Navy HQ) forced to slice the salami to somehow fit into the annual budget cycle, the Royal Marines have taken a long series of hits, most recently the removal of 42 Commando from the traditional assault role in favor of “maritime force protection” task.
Equipment-wise, the amphibious force is about to lose Ocean after losing one LPD (in mothball) and 1 LSD plus 2 Ro-Ro sealift vessels.
Modernization efforts have been almost entirely frustrated by killing off:

-          Force Protection Craft
-          Fast Landing Craft
-          BV206 replacement
-          Joint Mini UAS (a proposed Royal Marines / Army replacement for Desert Hawk III)

The picture is currently very depressing and the future is full of worries, despite the Royal Navy correctly listing amphibious capability as one of its three defining capabilities (together with Continuous At Sea Deterrence and Continuous Carrier availability).
The dramatic reduction in amphibious capability extends to the Royal Logistic Corps losing its own large landing craft without replacement.
3 Commando Brigade, just like 16 Air Assault, has been partially dismantled and turned into a “demi-brigade” on two battlegroups alternating yearly into readiness.
And all this has happened in open contradiction with doctrinal studies that have reaffirmed, year after year, that the future of global geo-demographics is Littoral. This requires UK forces that are able to mount substantial littoral and riverine manoeuvre, as joint and Army papers, including the Agile Warrior experiment, constantly reaffirmed.
The Royal Marines are also historically connected to Norway and are one of the formations tasked with reinforcement of the Northern Flank in case of a “Russia scenario”. Consequently, they are defence’s sole specialists in Arctic and Mountain warfare. Even this aspect of their capability is under threat, with arctic training for 2018 reportedly entirely cancelled due to Navy HQ simply not knowing how else to fit into next year’s budget. In a triumph of bitter, humiliating irony, days before the news emerged, UK officers were saying, at the Air Power Conference, that the next theatre of operation will be the frozen north.
As too often happens in british defence, words tell one story, actions paint another one entirely.

The UK’s amphibious capability is a key asset for future independent and coalition operations; it is valued by the US and by other allies, in particular Norway; and represents much of the amphibious capability available to the European side of NATO.
The trend of reductions and capability losses should be immediately reversed. Royal Marines and Army integrations should increase, if this is what it takes to encourage more joint thinking and a common response to correctly identified trends. The current situation of agreeing on the key and growing importance of littoral and amphibious manoeuvre while cutting back on all elements of said capability is ridiculous and must end.

The UK also took the leading role in a NATO initiative to develop solutions for the opening of sea ports for deployment abroad. Considering that all UK operations, considering geography, will inexorably deal with multiple seaports every time, and that entry into a theatre of operations might well be complicated by damaged / poorly kitted out / contested and semi-demolished ports, this capability is a key national requirement as well as an influence-buyer within the alliance. It also has peacetime value as a disaster relief instrument.
Literally nothing has apparently move since the launch of the initiative, and it would be really important to revitalize the effort and invest in this area.

A more detailed look into the state of the amphibious force can be found here and here.


Anti-submarine warfare is back on the list of priorities as tensions in Europe remind NATO that the basic scenario has never changed: if things ever go seriously wrong, the fate of the conflict in central Europe completely depends on the ability of the navies to escort convoys loaded with American tanks and supplies across the Atlantic.
The UK’s vulnerability to submarine warfare is unchanged as well. There are less submarines these days, but there are far fewer escorts as well, and today supplies and fuel travel on a far, far smaller number of far larger tankers, container ships and other vessels.
The loss of a few large merchant vessels today would have catastrophic consequences comparable to the complete annihilation of a few convoys back in the old days, a fact not always appreciated.
During expeditionary operations, the presence of a few diesel submarines is enough to put the task force in grave danger and tie down a lot of resources for defensive action. Undervaluing the threat is very risky: there is no certainty that the next torpedo fired at a Royal Navy warship will fail like those fired by the argies' ARA San Luis in 1982.

The Royal Navy remains a champion and an authority in the field of ASW operations, and its Type 23 frigates, Merlins and, tomorrow, Type 26s and MPAs will be particularly precious. Gaps do exist, however, including the absence of a long-range anti-submarine weapon for warships. The Navy also has just 8 ASW escorts these days, and there is worrying talk of Type 31 being a non-ASW vessel as well. A rethink is urgently needed.

Survey and MCM

The Royal Navy has great survey and MCM capabilities, and both will remain precious in the future, since mines remain a huge danger.
The Royal Navy’s MCM capability is particularly valuable in part for the US Navy’s relative weakness in this area. From an European point of view, the RN’s MCM force is less valuable, only because pretty much all countries in Europe have maintained capable flotillas of their own.
The ability to survey the seabed and clear it from mines remain crucial for the safety of the UK and for the conduit of operations abroad.
The MHC programme that should eventually define the replacement of the survey vessels Echo and Enterprise as well as of the current MCM ships is particularly important.

The deployable Division

The ability of the UK to field a capable Division for operations at range is a key element in determining the country’s power and influence. Division-level deployment gives the UK a more realistic “independent” option and keeps the country in the top tier of contributors within the alliance. Deploying a division far from home remains a major undertaking and one that is beyond the possibilities of many states: as such, there can be no doubt about the influence brought by this capability.

The ability to deploy a Division should not, however, come at the cost of a force structure adequately thought out to sustain brigade-sized enduring operations, which are more frequent and just as important. Army 2020 Refine pursues a vague concept of “Joint Land Strike” at the cost of making the Army a one-shot only organization, with little to no staying power. It is a completely illusory target, built upon shaky, vague doctrine. The myth of merry, quick land wars is well and truly debunked, yet the British Army is effectively pursuing a structure that embodies that myth. General Carter made mentions of Operation SERVAL, the French operation in Mali in early 2013, as being an example of rapid, decisive action as that envisaged for the Strike brigades. However quick and decisive the combat ops of January 2013 were, SERVAL eventually lasted 1 year and 6 months, between January 2013 and July 2014, equating to 3 successive tours if the 6 months deployments are to stay true. And its conclusion became nothing other than the beginning of operation BARKHANE, which endures to this day. I will also remark that the particularities of Operation SERVAL make it hardly useful as an inspiration for British Army future operations: in particular, the French were able to move so rapidly because much of the troops employed in the first phase were already forward based in Africa. Again, the rapid movement overland of wheeled formations was enabled by the presence of allied forces that secured the rear (not just Mali forces, but allied contingents from Niger and Chad which were more numerous than the French contingent itself). I hope to write a more in depth analysis of what Mali can and cannot say about the utility of “Medium Weight” forces in the context of the STRIKE infatuation in the British Army.

As I’ve already done several times, I suggest the British Army abandons the current, suicidal course and thinks about using its resources, beginning with manpower and existing equipment, in smarter ways. Joint Land Strike is a wobbly concept, based on dreams more than on realistic assessment of historical operations. Its implementation is essentially limited, due to budget and manpower shortages, to four battalions worth of wheeled APCs and, maybe, a wheeled 155mm howitzer in the future, all paid for by severe mutilation of other areas of the force structure. It is not just a flawed concept, it is a flawed concept that the Army will attempt to pursue while knowing from the start that it does not have the necessary equipment pieces.
The Army should rethink its force structure and make good use of what it has, instead, ensuring that the current “fake” brigades are used to deliver true deployable formations instead, grouped in two deployable divisions, albeit lighter. That will give the army a more realistic and sustainable balance of forces. Army 2020 Refine reportedly aims to be able to deliver a “best effort” division of 2 armoured and 1 strike brigade.
There is every reason to be skeptical about the feasibility of such a deployment in the first place, which would require 100% of the Army’s heavy armour and 50% of its medium armour, right from the get go. Who was in the army at the time remembers what a struggle it was, for a much larger army than today’s, to deliver 1st UK Division in Iraq in 2003. That division had only one armoured brigade, 7th Bde, plus 3 Commando and 16 Air Assault Brigades plus divisional assets.
In terms of equipment, Army 2020 Refine’s stated ambition matches or exceeds the Operation TELIC numbers: a division of 2 armoured and 1 strike brigade would deploy, in theory, with 112 Challenger 2 (vs 116 at the time); more than 200 Warriors in all sub-variants (versus 140 IFVs plus sub-variants), 36 AS90 (same) and 12 to 18 L118 or their future replacement (vs 39), plus one hundred or more Ajax and probably one hundred MIVs.
Talk about doing more with less. 1st Division’s deployment had a long-lasting ripple effect that dragged on for years in the daily running of the army and in the allocation of spares, and one can only imagine what kind of impact would come from trying to deploy 3rd Division today, from a much smaller army.

Modernization should continue in the heavy armour sector, which is actually the one, together with light infantry, where the British Army has the best spread of experience. Substantial armoured forces were deployed in two Iraqi wars, and heavy armour is now once more in high demand with defence of East Europe now at the forefront of NATO tasks.
Going back to the Air Mobility point, seen earlier in this article, air-mechanized manoeuvre can and arguably should be the true “Land Strike” focus for the British Army.

While there are undoubtedly merits and attractions in wheeled armour, the British Army should not pursue them at all costs by turning itself in a “make it or break it” silver bullet that would leave behind little more than a smoldering empty case once fired. It has a number of ongoing programmes already competing for shares of an ever tight budget and a longer list still of capability gaps, weaknesses and new requirements coming up in the next few years. There is no real urgency to pursue the STRIKE myth: in Europe it would be of limited and questionable utility against far more capable Russian formations, hybrid or not; while in Africa and the Middle East it would be helpful but far from decisive. As currently envisioned, a Strike Brigade with MIV would not be too much of a step up from a deployment of infantry mounted in Mastiff. The MIV comes with far better off-road mobility, but with same (or indeed less, as the new 8x8 will definitely be in the 30+ tons region) strategic mobility and same (insufficient) firepower.
The whole thing costs too much for what it actually adds. The “8x8 revolution” has been announced many times but has never really materialized. While wheeled armour does work, undoubtedly, it has not and will not change warfare anytime soon.
The US are still trying to make their Stryker brigades work, and their latest attempt to make them more useful is the addition of 30mm guns and Javelin under-armour launch capability; both things that MIV is almost certainly not going to enjoy. France is building on its experience of wheeled armour by investing on vehicles substantially lighter and simpler than the 8x8 and Ajax envisaged for the Strike Brigades: the Griffon 6x6 APC and the Jaguar 6x6 armoured car. French brigades enjoy more firepower, more and far larger infantry regiments than the two battalions of the british strike brigades, and self-escorting logistic formations.
Italy is (slowly) building up the most complete 8x8 force in NATO, thanks to the combination of Freccia and Centauro, with Centauro 2 on the way. None of the 8x8 available have made any kind of game-changing difference to the operations we have seen in modern times.

In terms of availability of the capability, it should be noted that 8x8s have been chosen by smaller European armies which have had to renounce to their tanks for budgetary considerations. Denmark is investing in them, Belgium has them (and will in future stay wheeled but downgrade even further by going Griffon 6x6 after announcing recently the purchase of the new French vehicle) and Spain wants a large number to replace the wheeled vehicles already in use.
There is no shortage of 8x8s in NATO. There is, instead, a shortage of heavy armour and artillery, which is becoming more evident by the day as Russian forces modernization progresses. France is rebuilding a fourth tank regiment; Germany is bringing back more than 100 MBTs, the US are rebuilding at least two armoured brigades over the next three years.
The UK, conversely, is looking at dismantling one of its three tank regiments and cut back on what is a proven, battle-hardened capability, albeit weakened by the obsolescence of Challenger 2, delays in Warrior CSP and weakness in artillery.
Instead of fixing well known issues, the army is looking at making them worse, just to mount four infantry battalions on 8x8 APCs. It remains, in my opinion, the dumbest possible course of action. There really isn’t a gentle way to put it: it is just a suicidal direction.
Heavy armour is still the measure of an army’s combat power as well as the main asset for high intensity warfare, the only one which has existential implications and thus should be the priority.
That is not to say that the Strike Brigade could or would not be deployed in Europe for reassurance initiatives. I’m sure the british army would gladly copy the US 2 ACR’s road march with Strykers across Europe if it already had MIV. It would be certainly impressive and appreciated in East Europe, but if push ever came to shove, the MIV as currently envisaged (without turret and cannon) would be maybe able to race to the front but it would be crushed once there.
Peacetime shows do not strictly require MIV. The British Army attached Jackals to the 2 ACR’s road show, and as a political statement, it suffices. For operations, MIV is not enough.
The Strike Brigade, as of now, is just not a wise use of money, manpower and kit.

An in-depth examination of all the gaps in the British Army force structure and a proposal to close them is here.

Combat engineering

You don’t often read this, but the British Army has excellent combat engineering regiments, well equipped and capable. They have a great spread of bridging capability, which is not easily found elsewhere, and they have great breaching equipment in the form of Trojan.
They are extremely valuable assets, which remain fundamental to any operation and which are likely to be more important than ever in future, heavily urbanized scenarios.
There are weaknesses too, though: the demise of SHIELDER exemplifies a dramatic decay of Counter-Mobility capability, which absolutely needs to be reversed as it would be key in any European war scenario, however unlikely.
Urban battlefields arguably suggest that re-introduction of a short-barrel, high-calibre demolition cannon such as the old 165mm is also highly desirable.
Project TYRO is (slowly) working on life-extending and upgrading or replacing the bridging equipment.
The M3 rigs are still operational and, in one of few good news contained in Army 2020 Refine, the regiment utilizing them. 75 RE; is due for considerable expansion as a renewed focus goes into wide wet gap crossing.

At the same time, Army 2020 Refine would remove 35 RE from the Close Support role, if not from the ORBAT altogether. This is part of the reductions that compromise the ability of the army to keep a brigade in the field for enduring operations, and should be reversed.

Battlefield recovery and repair

Despite the cuts suffered by REME in 2010 and an unfortunate and substantially failed re-organization of REME resources into battalions, the british army still enjoys a considerable richness of Recovery and Repair assets and expertise. A look at the equipment available in other European armies will rapidly show that the other countries tend to cut this corner a lot.
What is in short supply elsewhere becomes automatically valuable when the time to mount an operation comes.


The level of training and expertise that can be found in the british armed forces remains considerable. Training delivered by british forces is respected and valued, and the UK can buy security and influence through provision of training and assistance to friendly countries all over the world. Training deals also play a substantial role in supporting british defence industry in the export market: Typhoon jets can result a lot more attractive, for example, if british training comes along with them.
While there are good reasons to be skeptical about the “Defence Engagement Battalions” being created within the army, the general idea of having units permanently tasked with defence cooperation abroad is good under many points of view. Substantial uncertainty remains about the nature of these battalions, their effective capabilities and their employment. Several press reports have suggested that these battalions will be similar to American Green Berets, acting as Special Operations Forces where necessary, supplying covert or overt assistance directly on the battlefield. If true, this would make them particularly valuable but also particularly expensive to set up, man and maintain.
The area of foreign engagement, albeit unglamorous in many ways, does deserve attention and further work.
Delivery of naval and air training can be just as valuable. One problem in the Air domain is the puny size of the new training fleets. These are modern and capable, but truly minuscule. The SDSR 2015, by reverting some of the cuts of 2010, massively increased the requirement for trained aircrew, but did not adequately expand the training fleets to account for it. The number of instructors was expanded considerably compared to pre-2015 expectations, but the number of training aircraft was not corrected. There is already talk of adding an extra 2 Phenom and of doubling the T-6C Texan II line, from 10 to 20 or more aircraft, but well known budget issues have to be overcome for this to happen.
The reduced size of the training fleet means that there is little to no room for foreign pilots training, but cutting back on this kind of engagement is damaging.

Another important aspect of UK capability is the availability of a capable Red Air element to train against. Hawk aggressor squadrons, backed by EW and in-flight simulation deliver high-value  preparation for warships and aircrew. In the post-2020 era, the fate of this capability rests on the ASDOT (Air Support to Defence Operational Training) programme.

Further to the training aspect, the UK is investing a lot of money into building an Integrated Training Center for F-35 training at RAF Marham. So far, this ITC is the only one planned in Europe, with the other countries planning to have their personnel trained in the US.
Substantial opportunities for collaboration exist due to the Marham ITC, and every effort should be made to valorize it.

In conclusion

The above list of considerations is a “back to basics” assessment of what elements of the armed forces have a clear, special value and a defined role in current and future operations. All of them are backed by the two true game-changing attributes that the UK has:

-          The nuclear deterrent, with the freedom of action and the political clout it buys.
-          The willingness to engage and use force where required.

Other countries have impressive armies but never really employ them for their unwillingness to engage in unpleasant, dangerous business.

The capabilities listed in this article have particular relevance and the range of possibilities they open up should drive the UK’s strategic thinking. These areas of excellence should be developed and valorized with the aim of buying influence in peacetime and delivering decisive effect in wartime.
The measure of their usefulness comes from evaluating their importance to the UK’s conduit of war operations as well as their relevance within NATO.
Is it a capability matched by other allies? Is it unique? If other allies have it, is it important enough to deserve investment all the same? Can I afford to disinvest in it, with the reasonable certainty that I will still have access to it through allies?
Even with the UK determined to stay out of any future “European army” (arguably even more so because of it, in fact), the UK must be very careful in assessing its capabilities and that of its allies, including a realistic assessment of how easy it would be to obtain access to said allied capabilities in times of need. Just saying that future operations will be a coalition affair is not enough: if the UK had been counting on France’s equipment to retake the Falklands, today the islands would be the Malvinas.
A capability that adds something to the overall roster is particularly valuable, and should be accorded priority. Overall, the most complete and balanced spectrum of capabilities possible should be pursued, to preserve the UK’s ability to act alone when truly necessary.

The UK retains many areas of excellence, but has badly damaged all of them in repeated salami slicing exercises that have fixed the short-term budget while opening large capability gaps all over the place. Coherent, joint thinking is required to preserve those excellences and build on them to deliver a capable force. It might well mean not having medium, pardon “Strike” brigades, but that is someone else’s area of excellence. 4 MIV battalions will not improve the UK’s world stance; this still impressive roster of military capabilities, if maintained and well resourced, will.  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Towards the review of the Review

The SDSR 2015 is under a new review, and there is no denying that it all depends on money, and specifically on shortages of it, rather than on government taking actual notice of the “changed security environment”. We should all be aware of this: money is tight. The savings that were integral part of the financial plan are very hard to make. The amount that is supposed to come from “efficiencies” is enormous, and government has kicked out this review of the review primarily because it is becoming undeniable that generating that much money is just not feasible.

Efficiency targets

The 2010 SDSR ordered the MOD to find, in the following ten years, efficiencies for 7.1 billion pounds.

The 2015 SDSR ordered the MOD to find a further 7.3 billion of money to re-allocate elsewhere within the defence budget. 5.8 of these are expected to come from within the Equipment Plan, and 1.5 from the wider budget.

The Better Defence Estate strategy is estimated to require 4 billion of expenditure on infrastructure over ten years. One billion is firmly allocated, one billion is expected to emerge from budgeting measures already ongoing and 2 billions have yet to be found.

These efficiency targets add up to 16.4 (or 17.4, depending on how much you believe to the vague lines about the second billion of infrastructure budget) billions to be found from within the defence budget, to be reinvested to deliver the aims of the SDSR 2015.

Lately, press sources but even the MOD itself, in the person of Stephen Lovegrove, the MoD’s permanent secretary, consistently talk of a target of 20 billions in “efficiencies”.  There is no immediate explanation for the missing 3 – 4 billion from the targets announced previously, although the MOD claims that the “20 billions” are not a new request and were in the plan all along.
In any case, it is a lot of money. The last time the NAO reported about it, the MOD had identified 4.6 of the 7.1 billion efficiencies mandated by the SDSR 2010. That was months ago, yet the talk still is of 20 billions, like nothing had been achieved at all.
In short: the details are, as always, not provided. The gap could be as “little” as 11,7 billion or as large as 24.6, depending on how you add the numbers that get thrown around.

It is a big hole that needs filling, but the feeling is that there is still a lot of confusion.

Currency exchange rates

Many like to put a lot of focus on the drop in the value of the sterling and identify it as a major factor. It certainly doesn’t help, but is probably not quite the elephant that some would have us believe. At least, not yet.

I will not venture into trying to guess how much coverage the MOD has though currency edging and forward buying as it is not my sector and there are not enough published information about it, but I will put some focus on one factor that regularly gets overlooked when the currency exchange rate gets mentioned: the MOD did not and does not plan its budget according to the day’s exchange rate. While it is true that work on the SDSR 2015 was carried out when the pound traded well over 1.40 or even 1.50 dollar, the SDSR was not built on the assumption that such a rate would hold.
The department writes out its plans on the basis of a central, more prudential assumption about what a longer term exchange rate might be like. As far as I know, the assumed pound to dollar rate that underpinned the SDSR 2015 estimates has not been revealed. A document suggests that, regarding the pound to Euro rate, the central assumption was that a pound would buy 1.20 euro. This means that the actual drop compared to the planning baseline was smaller than if you just looked at the daily fluctuations.

Of course, while 2015 saw the pricetag of several programmes descend in-year due to a strong pound, the situation today still is clearly inverted and this does add pressure.

The absolute vagueness of the 10 year plan

Another factor to keep in mind is the extremely murky nature of the 10 Year Equipment Budget. The document is published yearly, but it is extremely vague. It contains little to no indication of the number of programmes included in any macro area (“ships”, or “land”) and tells nothing about when they start, when they end, and what they procure (number of vehicles, for example).

A little more information comes from the MOD’s Major Project Report sheet, again published once a year and which paints the picture of the status of the main ongoing programmes in the previous financial year.

The NAO used to publish its own review of the MOD’s Major Projects, and that document was particularly interesting because it offered some more detail (dates, numbers) and context for in-year and historical variations. Unfortunately, the NAO no longer produces said report.

The end result is that it is extremely difficult to track MOD plans and detect changes or predict what is going to happen, especially outside of the main projects.

Some points that need to be made: the plan covers a period of 10 years and rolls forwards with each year that passes. The last issue to be published covered expenditure plans between 2016 and 2026. Several programmes, including some of the biggest ones, actually stretch far beyond 2026, so that only a part of their value is included in the current plan.
When the press reports say that the 10 year plan is in trouble because of the “31 billion for the new Dreadnough class of SSBNs”, for example, keep in mind that those 31 billion are mostly outside of the current horizon. In 2026, the first submarine in the class will still be in the shed and most of the programme will still lay into the future.
Similarly, the latest report (finally!) gives us a realistic indication of when the MOD expects the procurement of 138 F-35s to be completed, and that is 31/03/2035, which means that almost a decade of expenditure is outside of the current equipment plan horizon.
Same goes for Type 26, with only 3 ships at most entirely covered within the period (possibly, even they extend outside of the current horizon, depending by how much delivery dates have shifted. The MOD is no longer offering precise dates, only talking about "around the middle of the 2020s"). 

Obviously, this does not mean that these problems aren’t “taking away a lot of space” within the budget, but we ought to be careful with the figures and with the blame-laying.

It is worth noticing that the imprecision in collocating projects and expenditure in the correct timeframes completely skewers perception of who gets more money: there is a common perception that the Navy is getting the vast majority of the equipment money while the army gets “nothing”, but the truth is somewhat different. The Navy “proper” had a share of 30,695 billion in the pre-SDSR 2015 plan, which became 31,983 with SDSR-induced changes. A 4% growth coming from the bringing forwards of some elements to earlier years.
The Army went from 23,387 billion to 28,368, a 21% expansion that makes it a winner in the SDSR, although the enduring confusion in its plans would never make you think that.
The RAF went up 11% from 29,613 to 32,837. Joint Forces Command grew by 35%, in large part due to the fact that it is the budget holder for the P-8 Poseidon as well as the Future Beyond Line of Sight programme for the replacement of the current SKYNET communications satellite capability.
With 49 billion, Strategic Programmes is the largest budget, driven by the Nuclear element, from reactor cores to AWE infrastructure to the (very expensive) maintenance and life-extension of the stockpile of nuclear warheads, with their refurbishment into MK4A standard.
When you count the nuclear deterrent separately (it is not directly controlled by the Navy), Navy Command isn’t quite as rich as people think. And the army is not at all as poor as it claims to be. It is my opinion, already detailed more than once, that the Army is, more than poor, dramatically confused about what it wants to be and do. Some will not agree, but that is the feeling I get from the current situation. There are many, many programmes the Army is grappling with. Many requirements requiring attention. Many of these programmes have been in the limbo of "concept" and "assessment" phases for many years. They swallow money constantly, and never deliver anything. 
And more requirements open up in the early 2020s when the Heavy Equipment Transport truck fleet contract expires, when the C Fleet PFI expires, and the tanker fleet reaches its OSD point. Replacement for DROPS and Light Equipment Transporters have been on the "to do" list for years, as well, and progress is virtually non existent.  

It is extremely difficult to say which programme is most at risk and most in trouble, simply because we actually are given no information about the vast majority of ongoing and planned efforts. This also means that a lot of things (and a lot of money) will shift around in the incoming review with us, on the outside of the MOD, getting little to no clarity about it.

One example of just how hard it is to keep track of things will help you realize the extent of the problem: in 2014 the Army had a massive overarching programme known as “Mounted Close Combat” which covered everything from Challenger 2 to Warrior and from Ajax to Mechanized Infantry Vehicle. That monster programme had a budget of 17.251 billion, spread out to the project end date of 31/12/2033.

Obviously, as a single programme its scope was way too great and so it was split into four separate components going into 2015.
“Armoured Cavalry 2025” chiefly covers the acquisition and entry into service of the Ajax family of vehicles, to culminate by 30/04/2025 in a completely renewed Armoured Cavalry capability.
“Armoured Infantry 2026” includes chiefly the Warrior CSP, but not only that. There is the enduring problem of replacing FV432 as well, with a notional OSD of 2026.
“Armour MBT 2025” covers the delivery of life-extended MBT capability to be fully operational by 2025.
“Mechanized Infantry 2029” covers the renewal of this other area, with FOC in 2029 and with the main focus being MIV.

In 2015 the MOD included only Armoured Cavalry and Armoured Infantry in the list of the major active programmes, so no detail at all was available about the other components. The Cavalry component had a budget of 6831,53 million; the armoured infantry a budget of 2176,45 million. Thanks to the NAO’s own report, the last one of its kind, unfortunately, we learn that Warrior CSP aims for 445 vehicles in total, including 65 “Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicles”, aka converted, turret-less hulls to replace FV432 with. The report, however, notes that the ABSV requirement is larger than 65 vehicles and the army envisages a greater procurement effort, including more variants. A delay of two years to the ABSV element is anticipated, and once implemented it is decided that ABSV will be its own Category A (aka, worth over 400 million) project, separated from WCSP proper.

The report published this year, and which actually details the year 2016, has the Armoured Cavalry pricetag reduced to 6248 million thanks to vaguely described “cost saving measures” including an extended Initial In-Service Support Contract for Ajax. Good news, in theory. In practice, we don’t know what elements of capability were traded out to make it happen.
Armoured Infantry also drops, all the way down to 1612,72 million, to be expended out to 31/12/2026. In this case, the budget has shrunk because ABSV was “removed as a direct cost-saving measure in the Annual Budget Cycle (ABC) 2016”. There is no way to tell whether the removal is permanent or not, and if, when and how we can expect ABSV to reappear. Is the 2015 plan of making it its own programme later on still on the cards? The FV432 still definitely needs replacement. But we are given no clue of what’s happening.
Together, these two changes amount to almost 1150 million which have shifted around / vanished. With no fanfare, no real way to assess how bad the damage is.
Armour MBT 2025 gets finally reported, with a budget line of 744,79 million to be expended between 04/12/2014, start date, and 01/06/2026, current end date.
Mechanized Infantry 2029 remains unreported as it is still in very early stages, with little to no money allocated to it yet. There is still a lot of money left to get to the over 17 billion originally attached to the MCC, but tracking all movements is difficult if not impossible.

It gets worse when considering the Multi Role Vehicle Protected, which made the news recently when the US approved the UK request for purchasing up to 2747 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles from Oshkosh. The number surprised a lot of people because the Army had earlier been reasoning in terms of far smaller purchases, of a few hundred vehicles at most, while saying that the rest of the requirement was still being defined.
Details about MRVP are extraordinarily scarce, despite the Army having talked repeatedly in public about this programme. To this day, the exact requirement remains non formulated. MRVP includes three “Groups” or “Packages”. Group one is for a general purpose 4x4 platform, and is the one to be fulfilled via JLTV (if the go ahead will be given early next year, when Main Gate is planned).
Group 2 calls for a larger vehicle, probably a 6x6, that must deliver a Troop Carrying Variant with a capacity of 2+6, probably in various sub-variants; plus the Future Protected Battlefield Ambulance variant.
Group 3 should deliver a lightweight (air portable) recovery vehicle for support to the other two groups and the other platforms within the Protected Mobility Vehicle portfolio (the likes of Foxhound, Jackal, Husky, RWMIK+).
The Army hasn’t yet been able to decide exactly what replaces what, and when. Group 1 will replace a number of unprotected Land Rover and Pinzgauers in various positions across land formations, but is also “candidate” replacement for everything from Panther to Foxhound. The graphic offered by the Army, however, offers a variety of OSDs (some of which ridiculously absurd, such as Foxhound leaving service in 2024!) while not formulating a concrete plan for replacing those fleets.

The Army itself, as early as last year, seemed utterly confused about the where, how and when of the Multi Role Vehicle Protected. Confusion appears to rule supreme in many areas. 

The most amazing thing is that we don’t even know where the MRVP belongs. In a presentation given by the army at DVD 2016, the MRVP is the future solution to the Light Protected Mobility Requirement, and sits under Protected Mobility Vehicle Programme, itself just one of three areas of the Operational Support Programmes, with the others being Operational Support Vehicles Programme (including the MAV SV fleet, Heavy Equipment Transporters, tankers, C fleet, B fleet, Phoenix service for the provision of civilian vehicles etcetera); Operational Infrastructure Programme (including tents, shelters, deployable workshops and bridging equipment). 
From the presentation it seems that even MIV sits in this area, but we would expect it to be under Mechanized Infantry 2029. Where does it actually sit? Is MRVP part of Mechanized Infantry 2029 too? Impossible to say. Is Group 2 progressing? How many vehicles will, in the end, be pursued? Over how many years? Few know it, and those few are all somewhere within the MOD or Land HQ in Andover. Nobody seems to have a complete picture of what is going on. 

What next?

There is a lot of uncertainty ahead. It is very hard to tell in which exact direction things will tilt. I do not think the government wants to be seen walking back on major SDSR commitments after banging the drum about them so much. The review is not MOD-limited, and this might actually be somewhat encouraging as it signals that the pain will be shared, and that some more money might be shifted towards defence to plug the worst holes. There will be pain, but wherever possible it will be kept well hidden in the vast dark zones of the equipment plan, the voids in which entire programmes float, out of sight.

Among the big ticket items, MIV is, I think undeniably, the most vulnerable one. Main Gate for the MIV is only expected in 2019, and until then there is little to no money solidly committed to contracts relating to it. It is also a relatively unglamorous programme, which is far less recognizable in the public eye that the MPA, or the carriers, or even Warrior and Challenger 2 themselves.
Rumors have started to circulate about the putting on hold of the “Strike” experimentation, and if there is any truth to them the army must be thinking about what it can (and what it should) salvage.
I’ve already argued at length about the reasons why I consider Army 2020 in its current form is a suicidal move, so I won’t repeat it now. I will only say that if the review puts a stop to this half-formed Strike madness and forces a more realistic look into the army’s force structure and goals, then some good can still come out of it. 

Other commitments that already look vulnerable or dead include expanding the Shadow R1 fleet. So few know about it in the general public that it is easy to imagine the expansion being quietly abandoned. Especially as the RAF takes over command of the Army’s few fixed wing Islanders and Defenders in the new year. Who wants to bet that the additional Shadows never come; or if they do they come at the expense of the Islanders?
Another vague SDSR commitment that looks essentially dead is the “longer range helicopters” for the Special Forces. MV-22 Osprey was greatly desired, but is not going to happen. Chinook air refueling probes and a couple of tanker kits for C-130J were the second option, but even that seems dead, especially with the wing box replacement programme on the Hercules being targeted only at the long fuselage variant, while the tanker kit is associated to the short fuselage.
657 AAC, which flies for the Special Forces, is flying on borrowed time. Latest information released show that only 8 Lynx AH9A remain in use, and nothing can be seen moving in terms of procuring a dedicate replacement. Director Special Forces might end up having to regret turning down the 8 “Light Assault Helicopter” configured Wildcats that were put forward in 2011.
Sentry updates are up for scrutiny as well, although the RUSI proposal of dropping the update in favor of a new fleet purchase might not be realistic. While the update is expected to cost a lot of money, i'm not sure there is a cheaper new-buy alternative out there. 

MARS Solid Support Ship is also at risk, as it is a rather expensive programme (i think the ballpark for the 3 vessel was in the region of 1 billion), with no contracts yet signed. It is unfortunately pretty easy to imagine it shoved into the future once more. Type 31E herself is still essentially a question mark. There is no indication of when the actual programme might actually begin, and it comes as no surprise that the Shipbuilding Strategy is taking ages to come out. Even though i fully expect it to leave more questions than answers, even when it'll come out. 
Warrior CSP manufacture and entry in service is delayed by an expected 12 months due to the reported difficulties with integrating the new turret and negotiating new terms for the final contract, so that is yet more pressure that gets pushed to the right.
MRVP is penciled for Main Gate early next year, but will it actually begin? And with what numbers, and over how many years?

Apparently, the Army is trying to see if something can be done to cut down the “regiment mafia” and streamline the string of RHQs and Infantry Divisions commands. This is extremely controversial and already has caused an explosion of leaks and comments by illustrious ex-high officers, but it is highly desirable to press on with a reform in this area and, indeed, with a realistic reassessment of the Army’s structure and the balance of infantry to supports.
If the MOD wants to carry out a serious rethink, they do have plenty of areas to touch.

The amphibious force is unfortunately badly exposed. The loss of a Bay, the incoming loss of HMS Ocean, the mothballing of one LPD and the delay to a vague future of every single major programme the Marines tried to get funded (BV206 replacement, lost in the wilds; Desert Hawk III replacement, not funded; Fast Landing Craft and Force Protection Craft, out in the cold...) are signals of how weak their position is. 
It would be a tipical MOD cock-up, to close the carrier gap but kill off amphibious capability while at the same time saying that it is key and that the future of war is dictated by geo-demographic considerations, with more and more people living close to the world's shores. 
I'm particularly worried about the future of the amphibious capability. It is badly exposed and i don't know if the Navy is in any condition to be an ally and a defender, considering the difficulties elsewhere in its own budget and manpower. 

We’ll be subjected to increasingly catastrophic news report in the coming period, as always at times of budget reviews. MOD insiders will make sure to drop soundbites to the press about some of the most unpalatable options in an attempt to rule them out by public outcry. We’ve seen it all happen in the past.
As of today, I don’t think anyone can claim to know the ins and outs of the budget situation, and even less can guess what exactly will happen next.

Regardless of what happens, everyone who cares about the armed forces should renew the call to the Defence Committee to push in Parliament for a substantial change in how the long term equipment plan is shaped up, formulated and reported. The current 10 Year Budget Plan is absolutely unaccountable and basically doesn’t commit government to any measurable target. And the feeling is that, even within the MOD itself, this convoluted and deliberately vague method of planning is preventing joined up thinking, generating capability holes where a programme doesn’t properly talk to another and in general promoting a “decide only at the last second, and only for the short term” culture which ensures the math of the budget will never work out. Type 31E risks to be too disconnected from the future programme for replacement of MCM and Survey vessels. There risks to be an overlap between the two ships, which will drag the Royal Navy’s capabilities towards the bottom. The Navy risks to go from having no “second tier” flotilla to having 3 classes of low-capability ships for use on constabulary tasks (Type 31, River Batch 2 and the future MHC). In the Army, the disconnect has reached levels of ridiculous that are simply hurtful: Ajax being out of place and awkwardly trying to reposition before its production even starts is just the most glaring example, but the ABSV saga adds to the pain. In general, the Army seems to have little clue about how to make sure that WCSP, Ajax, ABSV (?), MIV (?) and MRVP together cover the requirements.

Budget cuts happen everywhere, and in most of Europe the budgets are much smaller than the one the MOD gets to play with. It is high time to ask why only the MOD cuts generate such nightmares and the brutal cancellation of entire capabilities. No, the fault doesn’t sit only on the shoulders of politicians.