Thursday, June 7, 2012

RUSI Land Warfare Conference - speech of Philip Hammond

The National Security Strategy sets out the analysis of the environment we can expect to operate in.
Multi-polar, unpredictable, with diverse threats.
A future in which no single country can protect all aspects of its national security acting alone.
We will need to meet threats as they evolve, upstream and at distance, rather than waiting for them come to us.
That requires the UK’s Armed Forces to be intelligent, flexible and adaptable, both in approaching the fight and during the fight.
With an expeditionary capability and a theatre-entry capability.

Future Force 2020 is about transforming to face this future.

This is how Hammond summarizes the situation in his speech at the opening of this year's RUSI Land Warfare Conference, this morning.
An observation that i can't avoid making is that the deletion of the "Spearhead Battalion" requirement from 1st of June 2012 goes in exactly the opposite direction. The Spearhead element was a battalion of infantry kept at high readiness, ready to deploy on 24 hours notice, with logistics arrangements in place for providing supplies and spares and vehicles packaged and ready to go to a crisis area.
Now, the Spearhead Battalion does not exist anymore, with the Reaction role moved exclusively onto the Airborne Task Force, generated from 16 Air Assault Brigade. This is a reduction in the readiness of the Army to confront the unpredictability which constantly comes on the lips of ministers.
With the end of Afghanistan, a logic solution would have been to have the brigade at readiness providing a Spearhead Battalion element at high readiness, with 16AA making the ABTF available in addition.

Instead, all we now get is one battalion of infantry at readiness for internal emergencies. I'm not sure what the justification for this reduction in scope of the battalion at high readiness might be, other than cuts in funding.
Perhaps the Government expects a revolution in the coming months...?

For the rest, it is all empty talk about building a force that is financially sustainable, that has Afghanistan as main focus, etcetera. No meaningful information, no new things, no hints. Nothing.
It even says that the decisions must still be made. Well, with the announcement expected in April, then May, now later in this month, you'd expect that they'd by now know what the hell you are doing, no...? 

There is then a pathetic attempt to sell to the public the idea that this reform is wanted, inspired and shaped by the Army itself, and that many aspects of it will be welcomed:

As we move towards 2014, and an end to this enduring stabilisation operation, the pace of transformation in the Army will quicken, as we reconfigure to meet the needs of the adaptable posture with a smaller force of 82,000 regular soldiers.
Many aspects of this change will be welcomed and there is a widespread understanding of the need for it.
This is a process after all being driven by the Army itself - not imposed upon it.
I will carefully avoid saying what i think of this claim, and i'll let you judge by yourself.
I think the decisions to be welcome will be very few. In general, the adoption of the MRB concept (if it survived, because Hammod never says "5" and never says "multi-role" brigades, even if, in order to meet Force 2020 objectives as stated, they are implied), the expansion of the 14 Royal Signals Regiment (Electronic Warfare) to 750 elements (unless there is a U-Turn) and the establishment of the rule of the five in UAS, STA and GMLRS batteries are the only good things i can think of, and at the moment we are not entirely sure that any of these will actually happen. For what we know, there might be more U-turns on the horizon, after all. 

I was awestruck by the passage:

Building manoeuvre around mechanised infantry.

Considering that the Army's mechanized infantry counts as little as 3 battalions, equipped (Entirely? Effectively? Only on paper?) with modernized FV430 MK3 Bulldog APCs, this comes across as pretty strange.
What does it mean to build around mechanized infantry?
Is mr Hammond intending the Armored infantry mounted on Warrior, perhaps? Wanting to be pessimist and cruel, i'm tempted to think so, as having already announced and confirmed the Warrior upgrade, the easiest thing to sell to the public is a plan in which the 5 (+1?) armoured infantry battalions are presented as core of the whole force.

The optimist part of me expects to see the Mechanized Infantry growing to a minimum of 5 battalions, equipped probably with Mastiff and Ridgbacks brought into core budget after afghanistan and, in the longer term, with FRES UV, which remains in the Army's ambitions and about which we should hear more from 2016, with a notional 2022 in-service date. In support of this there's the passage:

We will now be looking at where we can bring forward further projects that enhance Army capabilities and are judged necessary on the basis of military priority.
Taking into account the recovery of platforms from Afghanistan that have been procured through the Urgent Operational Requirements system.

What role will the tank play in this picture, and in which numbers? No hints. 

In Hammond's words there is not, once again, detail.

Of course, there is also mention of "firepower geared to precision, rather than suppression.", which i suspect is a justification for the loss of 35% of the AS90 and, possibly, for further reductions in artillery that have not yet been annonced.
We are still waiting, after all, to see the Royal Artillery given "precision-guided" ammunition, which the SDSR document uses as excuse to claim that the number of AS90 guns can be reduced: the RA has been trialing and validating guided shells such as Excalibur and SMART, but Excalibur has not been funded yet and the SMART contract has been cancelled.
So i'd say that, at the moment at least, this is just nonsense.   

Then we come to the passage:

Thinking innovatively about how combat service support is provided.
Using more systematically the skills available in the Reserve and from our contractors.
Working closely with partners to operate logistics more rationally through Alliance structures.
Looking, sometimes, to others to provide the tail, where Britain is providing the teeth.
No idea of how it will work out in the real world, but for sure, this is the justification he's been able to come up with to introduce heavy cuts to REME, RLC, Signals and, to a degree to be verified, to Artillery and Engineers.

We then get, inexorably, to the integration between Reserves and Regulars, and it all comes down to a rather empty (again) rant:

We will be investing an additional £1.8bn over the next ten years in our Reserve Forces. 
Allowing a progressive adjustment of the Regular/Reserve balance, while maintaining the land forces capability set out in the SDSR.

The Future Reserves must be structured to provide, as they do today, some niche specialists capabilities that simply aren’t cost-effective to maintain on a full time basis - for example in areas of cyber, medical, or intelligence.

But the Future Reserve must also be able to provide on a routine basis, those capabilities across the spectrum of tasks requiring less intensive complex training.
The integrated Army concept means, for instance, that light infantry battalions will be reinforced on deployment through a permanent partnership with reserve units.

And for less complex tasks a Reserve unit could, in the future, form the basis of an operational deployment with augmentations from Regular Forces - particularly on homeland resilience duties.

This is a fundamental change in role requiring a fundamental shift in approach: a New Deal for Reserves.
A higher quality Reserve that will have a far greater expectation of use and whose level of contribution will be planned, programmed, and properly resourced.

Requiring more commitment from individual reservists to training and to force preparation.

Forging a new relationship between the Armed Forces, individual reservists and their employers.

Understanding the needs of employers in this challenging economic environment and working with them as a priority to make sure that the availability the Armed Forces require is delivered to mutual benefit.

According to what was earlier announced on SOLDIER, magazine of the Army, by the Army Chief, the plan is to have 2 Reserve Brigades assigned to each regular brigade, like the Australia Army has done in its own restructuring. Hammond here seems to suggest that (again like in Australia) the Reserves could form the core of a deployment (battlegroup sized?), while their normal role will be in providing reinforcements to Light Infantry (will the TA finally be able to accomplish its stated mission of augmenting deployed infantry battalions with a 4th Maneuver Company?) and specialist, niche capabilities including Cyber, medical services and intelligence.

So far, so good: it is, on paper, far more sensible than what was suggested by the press, which suggested of AS90s and Challenger IIs going "almost totally" to the Reserves, with probably disasterous results.
However, we miss the details. The Press might still be right. Or worse, the Army might just lose even more tanks and guns than it already has. And lose them not to the reserve, but to the scrapyard, which would be even worse.

The Regimental system is definitely staying, but several units will be lost. No detail on which, nor on numbers and types of formations to be lost. Hammod makes even a point about demographics:

Looking forward to 2020, the Army will recruit against the backdrop of, we hope and expect, a growing economy, and without the recruiting-sergeant of an enduring overseas operation.

Demographic changes suggest particular challenges in some regions to supply the number of recruits to the infantry that are required.
Against a background of an increasing UK population overall, it is projected there will be around 12% fewer males by 2020 in the typical infantry recruiting age range.
Although all regions face this decline, there is some local variation: in particular, the south and south east of England will see the lowest decline. [That's a nice way to say that they are cutting from Scottish, Welsh and North-England units]

So while we are determined to maintain an effective regimental system, it must be based on the realities of today, and the primacy of capability.
That means focussing on analysis of recruitment performance, demographic trends and future recruiting needs.
Taking account of regional identities, previous mergers, disbandments and deletions.
Designed to support proper career advancement for soldiers and officers alike.

These are the criteria against which our decisions must be made.
And on which I expect to make announcements to Parliament in the coming weeks, as soon as the CGS has completed that important piece of analytical work.

I must say: what a useless, useless speech. It leaves more questions and uncertainties than answers. 
If this is all he could say, perhaps it would have been better to avoid delivering the speech altogether. Hammond recognized that the uncertainty has a terrible effect on morale in the army, and answers must be delivered as soon as possible... but apparently did not realize that this speech only generates even greater uncertainty. 

Lieutnant General Nick Carter, leader of the "Army 2020" team, was to deliver his own speech and vision at the same conference today at 14:00. I hope his intervention was more interesting than this one, and i hope that we get a transcript of it as well. I'll write about it as soon as i get it.


  1. Gaby said: "what a useless, useless speech. It leaves more questions and uncertainties than answers."

    Did you really expect anything better matey ?

    1. Expect is a big word, but i did hope in something a tiny little bit more interesting.

      I got it in the speeches of Wall and Carter. Of which, of course, i can't find a transcription but only a couple snippets, damn it.

    2. Hi gabbie - tech question:

      Are the reserves funded through the core defence budget?

    3. I'd say yes, definitely. I think reserves are part of the funding that's given to the service they are part of.

  2. The Army is pushing English regiments as future fighting forces, when every one of them has never been anything more than mediocre. The greatest fighting battalions in history are Scottish, Irish and Welsh... Check the history. The Rifles and ParaShite Regiment have some of the worst casualty statistics, where as the others lose but a few, and it's all down to skills and drills. Old regiments are old for a reason, because they, like their Soldiers, know how to survive. Young upstart cnuts like the Trifles and ParaShite Reg should be axed to make way for more kilted heroes. ;)


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