Robert Gates, outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary, has been one of the harder and most direct Secretaries of all times. He's never had hesitations in delivering clear messages and he's tackled the need for cuts in the US Defence budget pragmatically and with firmness, going so far to put on two-years probation the F35B. He's also delivered some very strong messages, such as the well-known warning than anyone suggesting in the next years to engage in another long ground operation of stabilization and nation-building in the Middle East or Asia could only be judged as crazy.
Now that he's outgoing, he's being even more direct and severe, delivering some very hard messages, mainly targeted at NATO.
It was about time, to say the very least. Quiet and private messages, delivered via diplomatic means and direct meetings, and the warnings delivered in SDSR did not work. They now are being louder.
Gates first warned NATO members about finances in a June 10 speech to a Brussels-based think tank.
"The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime [Libya] in a sparsely populated country - yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference."
He is not alone in delivering such warnings and calls.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the panel that NATO participation in Libya and Afghanistan could lead certain NATO countries to rethink their strategy of cutting their military budgets in light of the "reality" of combat.
"Countries who recently did their own strategic review, they found themselves getting rid of capabilities that now that they're in a combat environment they're giving second thought to that," Mullen said. "Combat has a way of bringing that kind of reality to them."
Spot on. Who do you think he's thinking of...?
In the UK, First Sea Lord Mark Stanhope has made it clear that the Libya operation cannot continue to infinity without a serious planning behind it. He's been very firm in warning that the Navy can squeeze ships out for Libya commitments for the next 90 days, but after that, the schedule will start to break apart. Some of the Navy standing tasks will not be met, and according to his declaration, it appears that the Fleet Ready Escort, the one vessel that is kept in UK waters at the ready to deploy at short notice wherever necessary (along with a Lynx Flight from 815 NAS, similarly kept available) will have to be sacrificed and used to plug the gap.
"Beyond that we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities," he said. "There are different ways of doing this. It's not simply about giving up standing commitments. We will have to rebalance."
He said a ship might have to be diverted from "around home waters".
Pull it even longer, and the government will have to decide what standing task they want to gap.
Caribbean is already covered by RFA tankers, so the frigate/destroyer for Libya would have to come from those allocated for the main tasks in the Gulf and off Somalia, or from North Atlantic, or even from South Atlantic.
Math is a cruel mistress. The Navy can't multiply men and ships: HMS Cumberland got a temporary reprieve on her scheduled decommissioning and was the first stopping by Libya, but now all the Type 22 are gone, and so is HMS Gloucester too. HMS Tireless was at sea for 307 days due to the need for her to station off Libya and fire Tomahawks, which stretched her already long deployment to over 10 months, until another SSN could replace her.
Mr. Cameron can call Stanhope to his office and deliver all the "dressing" he wants, but he's only making a fool out of himself. He has denied the defence chiefs' (both current and past, from Army, Navy and RAF alike) point about the UK being "no more a full-spectrum military" (the lack of carrier air and marittime patrol aircrafts being only the two most blatant evidences of that) and now he wants to deny math, logic, and facts too.
General Sir David Richards, chief of the Defence Staff, slapped down the First Sea Lord as well, saying that the UK "can sustain this operation as long as we choose to, absolutely clear on that."
Which again is food for idiots. The operation can be sustained, but at which levels? The RN had to sail its amphibious task force two weeks earlier than planned, then sacrifice most of Cougar 11 exercise to bring the whole task force outside Libya. Now it has had to detach Cardigan Bay and Fort Victoria to Yemen, along with 80 Marines, 3 Merlin HM1 and (according to reports) 2 Apache soon to arrive to be based on the ships, in order to be ready to evacuate britons from the country, now on the brink of total civil war.
Most of the fleet is at sea, 5 Apaches are bound for Libya, 2 for Yemen, 8 are constantly in Afghanistan, training for the Typhoon fleet is nearly motionless, at least 3 Typhoons have been grounded and cannibalized to keep flying those needed over Libya. How long gracious Richards think it'll be possible to sustain this operational tempo?
When will people admit that Apache is beautiful and awesome, but that it is living a true "at sea" moment because there is no carrier air, and now that carrier air is desperately needed the chopper is used as a surrogate?
We can argue about the opportunity of sharing certain things with the press, throwing evidences like this to the general public, but we can't fool ourselves and think that the service personnel do not know it already. Similarly, the potential enemies of the UK do not need the press to know it either. They know it better than the press ever will, and the UK allies know it as much, as recent declarations from US and French officers have made evident. So this is not a good argument to try and silence defence chiefs.
Talking to the press is indispensable these days, as a mean to try and protect the armed forces from further slaughter. In the past, warnings came exclusively from ex-chiefs and high officers. It still happens, but since ex-chiefs are easily ignored, it is time for the armed forces chiefs in charge to be as blunt and direct as Robert Gates, and more.
Leaked letters such as Liam Fox's ones have been another attempt. But this is no time for such "politically correctness" and quiet tactics. Liam Fox himself must be very, very clear and direct about the real state of things, and call Cameron's bluff.
Liam has got the support of most Tories, and Cameron is not in the condition of going directly against him. I call for Fox to be as cunning and smart as the animal he happens to have the name of as surname, and i invite him to be ferociously clear in his declarations. Because the time to fight for the armed forces corner is now.
Time to stop fooling ourselves. Time to stop waiting and lying and fudging.