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.  


  1. Hi Gabriele,
    Thanks for a very good article.
    I think we should brace our selves for some bad news in the near future.
    I fear more stealth cuts are on there way.
    Maybe, and I very much hope, the only good news is that the armies crazy strike brigade (which isn't a strike brigade), concept will be cancelled.
    With money so tight, and savings to be made,
    a MIV family and artillery gun must be off the wish list?
    Phil (The cynical ex pongo)

  2. "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."

    The big picture is that Government income was hugely dependent on taxing financial services prior to the crash in 2008. Financial Services haven't recovered since then and thus government income hasn't either. If you have a look at the level of borrowing, its still bad. Most government departments are in a really bad way - schools for instance are now seeing significant cuts (15%+), and the NHS can't possibly keep up with the level of need. Add in Brexit and uncertain future growth and really you can't see it turning around any time soon.

    Then there are issues within the UK Armed Forces; i.e. manpower is much more expensive than in Europe, forces that are still expected to be able to do everything, the huge price rises of defence kit (£1bn for each F26!) etc. And there you have it - a poor situation. I don't expect good news from this latest SDSR or for a long time really.

    The good news is that it really doesn't matter - so long as we're not stupid, we're unlikely to be affected by any major conflicts for a long time.

  3. I was at RIAT 2017 and was talking to one of the pilots of the Australian air force E7-Wedgetail, who said that there was talk the British MOD were interested in procuring that Platform to replace the E-3D

  4. From MikeW:


    First of all I would like to ask Anonymous whether he thinks that his statement: “The good news is that it really doesn't matter - so long as we're not stupid, we're unlikely to be affected by any major conflicts for a long time.” is not erring somewhat on the side of complacency?

    I know that you have put in a qualifier (“so long as we're not stupid”) but remember Churchill’s dictum: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” After all, the Falklands came out of nowhere. Of course that resulted in warfare of a kind that was different from the high intensity, high-end warfare that you are probably thinking of (you do mention “major conflicts”) and which requires massive resources but it would at least be prudent to keep our intervention forces (and I am thinking of amphibious and airborne forces in particular but also some heavier elements) fully manned and up-to-scratch with the latest kit. There will always be contingencies, crises, etc. occurring and sometimes non-intervention is as foolhardy as rash and imprudent involvement.

    Where I do strongly agree with you is when you say “I don't expect good news from this latest SDSR or for a long time really.” I have more than a sneaking suspicion that austerity will be with us for quite a time in order to balance the books and get sustainable growth. My own personal view is that many of our problems stem from the humungous spending spree that was embarked on eight or nine years ago but you might very well disagree with that!


    I mentioned to you in another comment that I have also come round to the idea that the Strike Brigades concept should be postponed until the organization of them can be done properly, although, perhaps paradoxically, I do believe that Army does need a wheeled vehicle something like the MIV, even if only procured in smaller numbers.

    What I really meant by that was that it might be sensible not exactly to kick the Strike Brigade concept into the long grass but to postpone it until we can comfortably afford the 8 x8s and wheeled artillery that we need and spend at least some of that money on really beefing up the Armoured (or Armoured Infantry) Brigades and let’s have three (not just two) of those. A small purchase of MIVs would both help to prepare us for the eventual Strike Brigade(s) as well as in the meantime filling in some gaps in the Armoured formations (e.g. the roles now performed by Mastiffs etc.)

    1. I'm not opposed to MIV per se. A wheeled, medium weight capability would be helpful, but the army is in no condition to build it up anything soon without mutilating itself elsewhere and half-arsing it. I'm not convinced that procuring MIV on its own and mounting two or three battalions on it achieves much of anything in isolation. And there is always the money problem.

    2. I concur with most of what you both say. Here are a couple of further points / thoughts -
      1. I think that trying to do anything on the "strike brigade" concept right now would be foolish and that certainly includes restructuring Brigades and purchasing an MIV
      2. Kit wise we need to work with what we have / what we could probably upgrade successfully. This means - Chall 2; Warrior; Ajax; Mastiff and the various other armoured vehicles available
      3. Manpower wise. As Gabriele has said many times before, we have the manpower to form deployable 7 Brigades (including 3 Commando) if only we use it properly
      4. The question then becomes what kit can we reasonably provide them over the next 10 years and hence what "type" of Brigades would they be.

      My personal conclusion is that if we were wise with the Warrior IFV, Warrior ABSV, Ajax and Chall 2 vehicles and upgrade programmes we have there is no reason why we couldn't have 3 deployable Armoured Brigades structured with 3 combined arms regiments as imagined by Gaby. That is where our current strength, knowledge and capabilities lie which can be built on. They would also be most useful in any peer to peer conflict and have utility elsewhere (Middle East Ops demand MBTs!)
      The Marine Brigade can be brought back up to deployable strength.
      3 Infantry Infantry Brigades with 3 Battalions each can be developed and be mounted on whatever Mastiff etc remain or used for air Assault or limited parachute or whatever combination is appropriate.
      The point is that we need deployable Brigades. At east half of them should be able to defeat any peer in direct conflict, which means Armoured. If we had the money, it would be great if the remainder of the Brigades could be a combination of Medium and Light.... BUT WE DON'T. Therefore we that suggests focusing on doing two of the three well and forgetting the middle, rather than doing all three badly (which appears to be the current approach)

    3. From MikeW


      Many thanks for your perceptive and, to me, very sound, reply.

      I agree with most of what you say, particularly the point about how we need to work with the kit that we have or could probably upgrade successfully. As you say, that would involve Chall 2; Warrior; Ajax; Mastiff etc. I have reservations, though, about Mastiff (its off-road performance is not brilliant, to put it mildly and perhaps something could be based instead on MRVP Group2 vehicles, if we ever get them, that is).

      I also agree about how we should focus on doing what we can manage well: “If we had the money, it would be great if the remainder of the Brigades could be a combination of Medium and Light.... BUT WE DON'T. Therefore we that suggests focusing on doing two of the three well and forgetting the middle, rather than doing all three badly (which appears to be the current approach”).

      However, when you say “As Gabriele has said many times before, we have the manpower to form deployable 7 Brigades (including 3 Commando) if only we use it properly”, I have to say that I have followed Gabriele’s thinking on such matters fairly closely and I think that he is right. However, I am rather perturbed about the fact that forming a seventh brigade would probably involve changing over from infantry personnel in certain regiments to engineers, loggies, signallers etc. ie. creating more CS and CSS formations and that will not be easy. Apart from the danger of possibly destroying some first-rate infantry, there is also the question of the time such a conversion would take. Or perhaps I am very wrong about this.

    4. I was going to write a long and convoluted reply, but ultimately my mantra is, if a battalion of infantry isn't full manned and equipped and in a deployable and supportable brigade then, ultimately, it is a waste of manpower and money. I include these "engagement" battalions and also the two deployed in Cyprus and the public duties battalions. The only ones I have sympathy for are the Gurkha Battalion (which opens access to huge amounts of manpower) and the Spec Ops Battalion.
      One further point. Is there not an opportunity to not use RAF Regiment Squadrons to replace the efforts in the Falklands and the two Cyprus areas?

    5. MikeW

      I'm the original anonymous, who wrote about no conflicts happening for a long time.

      Basically who are our existential enemies?
      - Russia maybe but their economy is smaller than Spain's and they have no ability to strike far beyond their borders.
      - Spain and Gibraltar; we can't possibly stop them if they decide to walk in unless you fancy nuking Madrid. They have a full armoured division for heaven's sake!
      - Argentina. They're in an even worse way than we are with no airforce or Navy to speak of.
      - The EU. If the day ever comes that we take on the whole of Europe, we're completely screwed. The same with the US.
      - There's no one else!

      Basically you could halve our defence budget again, and it would negligible impact upon the actual defence of the UK.

    6. Enemies:
      -Russia- their economy may appear smaller than Spain's but they are choosing Guns rather than butter. They have some class submarines, long range bombers and some nasty missiles and a recent history of invading their neighbours and causing trouble generally.
      -China- Not on your list at all. Surprises could be in store in the bubble you inhabit.
      -North Korea- Not on your list. see above.
      -Spain- Unlikely to invade Gibraltar but a stronger possibility than you would have us believe. They are vulnerable to counter harassment.
      -Argentina- Unlikely etc.
      -Others- There are in fact almost endless possibilities for trouble from nuclear blackmail to mass hostage taking in far off places that would almost certainly require a Naval/ Marine taskforce of more than a couple of patrol craft.
      Some would make the case that the world today is more dangerous than at any time for 50 years.
      Halving the Defence budget would be totally irresponsible. We may live on a cosy little island but we dont all live in a bubble.

    7. From MikeW

      @Anonymous (the one whose original letter was on 27th July at 8.29 pm –Hope I’ve got the right one now!)

      Sorry for this belated response but I’ve only just seen your reply.

      I believe it highly unlikely that you and I will ever agree. I think that your closing comment: “Basically you could halve our defence budget again, and it would negligible impact upon the actual defence of the UK” is, quite frankly, baloney. I feel I should make the point strongly that the whole question of the Defence of the Realm is a far more complex and multi-faceted subject than you appear to believe. Of course, I am not so naïve as to believe in the likelihood of Russian armoured formations suddenly arriving at the Channel ports but nations such as ours have commercial interests to defend and trade routes to guard as well as responsibilities towards protectorates and dependencies, so that defence policy is certainly not confined just to the defence of these shores.

      I have time to give you just one example. China has recently increased its defence budget by no less than 7%! The conventional explanation for this is, of course, that it needs to defend its commercial interests in Asia. However, some of that money is being used to build new aircraft carriers and destroyers, so that by 2020, the Chinese will have the world’s second largest Navy. Today China’s commercial interests range far beyond Asia. They have gone into Africa in a very big way indeed in an effort to gain the necessary resources to drive their own economy . They will have to be able to defend those interests and so the Chinese Navy has just deployed to its new naval base at Djibouti in east Africa , a location of immense importance for the protection of vessels passing through the Gulf of Aden.

      The movement of three Chinese naval vessels to the Baltic Sea is a similar kind of move. They will be very close to the Baltic States and Poland and this could potentially lead to a collision course with NATO, which has a duty to protect its member states. The Baltics are, moreover, also a region where the Royal Navy regularly patrols and China’s deployment only emphasises the importance of getting our own new aircraft carriers into operational mode as soon as possible.

      On the subject of NATO and its duty to protect its member states, did you witness the belated and rather sorry efforts of the UK to insert land forces to Estonia? One had only to look at pictures of the Antiques Road Show of equipment limping into that country to see how much we have neglected the British Army! And how many Main Battle Tanks did we send? One report says only eight!

      Now, this is just one example of how involved defence matters are. I haven’t even mentioned North Korea and certainly don’t have the time to go into that now but I think when we come to consider possible threats, the consideration should be about much, much more than immediate dangers to our own shores.

      I think I agree with you about the present state of Argentina’s forces, though.

      Best wishes,


    8. I'm the original Anonymous - my name is John.

      Fair do's Mike and thanks for being so civil.

      Personally I think China is an awful long way from being a threat - it simply doesn't have capability to move significant forces beyond its territorial waters. When the day comes and that changes (the date for that apparently is 2103 - Ian Morris "Why the West Rules for Now"), I doubt anything we do will make all that much difference. It's worth noting by the way, that we want their money to fund our new power generation projects.

      Russia can harass us but do no more. It's unbelievable how poor it is. It also must keep one eye to its southern and eastern borders, not to mention its minority peoples.

      As for North Korea, it again has no capability to do anything beyond its own territory and South Korea - plus why would they want to? We are a long way down its priority list.

      I actually sympathise with the demands to boost our armed forces but we are living in an era where we cannot look after our elderly people with dementia, struggle to fund schools, and are slowly killing off the NHS. Without an existential threat I see little point to spending huge sums of money on it on more forces, and I still hold to my view that actually you could cut it and we'd jog on quite happily.


  5. Out of interest where did you see the announcement about the AAC's Islanders and Defenders being transferred to the RAF ? Was it an official MOD press release ?

    1. It was initially reported by Jane's and then confirmed by mentions elsewhere including this written answer by Harrier Baldwin:

  6. It is bad news if the MARS fleet solid support ships are going to be kicked into the long grass again as two out of the three existing ships are in urgent need of replacement and realistically cannot be run on for much longer. My feeling is that they will either opt for a simpler, cheaper design with less of a multi-role capability or perhaps build two instead of three and keep Fort Victoria in service for far longer than originally intended.

    As I have been saying for some time, I think that the amphibious capability is no longer seen as a priority and will be pruned back in the longer term. Heady talk of new LPDs to replace Albion and Bulwark is now totally unrealistic and I expect all five current ships to be succeeded by perhaps three general-purpose amphibious/landing ships flagged out to the RFA. This is similar to what was originally proposed back in the late 1980s to replace Fearless and Intepid (along with the 'Aviation Support Ship' requirement that eventually spawned Ocean), so forty years on we may well end up back where we started.

    1. I don't think in fact the MARS ships will be delayed except to give a UK manufacturer time to gear itself up to undertake such a task. When the ships are ordered they will also (for political reasons) be built in the UK and the tempo will also surely be slower than with the Tide class. If built in Korea you might get all three completing over a 2 years span. In UK the completion tempo will likely be twice as long.

    2. That entirely depends on how serious and how ambitious the shipbuilding strategy is. If they truly are willing to breathe new life into the sector, the MARS Solid Support Ships must be built in the UK. They are probably at least 40.000 tons ships, relatively complex: means giving quite a lot of work to the yards. But will this be the case? I'm honestly not at all sure about what to expect. I'm not optimistic about the document.

  7. As per a comment above I was going to provide a long reply on how the Army Could structure itself, but ultimately it boils down to this
    1. MIV Can it we can't afford it, it doesn't solve the problem of mobility because we are not buying enough and we are not buying a Gun System to provide Direct Fire Mobile systems. If you're doing this do it right or not at all.
    JLTV, Can it. Can not see the point of buying a 5.5 tonne vehicle that does not cure the problem of Infantry soldiers having to get C Class LGV Licences to drive them, it provides no more protraction than Husky/Panther/Foxhound and if you want to mount a 30mm Apache Gun on something do it on those vehicles, don't go and spend billions on something we don't need.
    3. Land Rovers, they are not protected enough or carry big enough armament to be useful even against irregular forces these days, all of whom mount 20/30mm anti aircraft guns on pick ups. So replace the Land Rovers with a leased Pick Up Truck fleet with the ability to be upgraded with a light Armour Kit, Wadding equipment etc, that is maintained by the Local Manufacturers Dealers. Freeing up vital Reme resource to back fill the woefully under equipped support functions for the Para/RM and the Armoured div.
    Live with what you've got, if instead of all those programmes above we put the money in Upgrading 3 Armoured Regiments of Challengers, 6 Battalions of Warriors and replace the Series FV430 series with turret Less Warriors. Upgrade the Barells of the AS90 etc etc. We might be able to produce 1 Armoured Div, of 3 Brigades made up of 1 Tank Reg, 1 Ajax Reg, 2 Armoured Inf, plus based on the Para's and Royal Marines a Brigade of Light/Medium Heavy Protected Worldwide Deployable Troops.
    Instead the Army ploughs on with shinny kit syndrome buying 300 8x8's and 2,500 JLTV's whilst the rest of the heavy equipment withers and dies.
    The Ginge

    1. I would grasp 2 nettles; one, disband 4 SCOTS and 2 LANCS, two turn the Guards Battalions into 500 strong Force protection Battalions and assign them to the 3 Armoured Infantry Brigades and Public Duties Have 3 Mastiff Battalions (3 SCOTS, 1 LANCS, 4 RIFLES) in a full brigade (4 Brigade) and 3 light infantry battlions (2 ANGLIAN, 1 IRISH, 3 RIFLES) in another brigade (7 Brigade) and grow them to circa 600 strong. Excluding para's and Gurkhas that leaves 8 battalions left 1 & 2 SCOTS, 2 MERCIAN, 2 YORKS, 2 PWRR, 1 ANGLIAN, 1 & 2 RIFLES, shrink them to 500 and they can do Falklands, Cyprus and Defence engagement, these will need their reserve to bring them to deployable strength. I reckon that frees something in the region of 1400 posts to make sure the CSS for 4, 7 and 16 are there for the battlegroups. That gives you 1 Air Assault, 1 x Light and 1 Heavy Protected Battlegroup + a full Armoured Infantry brigade on a 36 month deployment cycle.

  8. What should the review be looking at?
    History shows that it is not easy without the benefit of hindsight to predict the type of armed forces we will need to meet future challenges. None of us can say with any certainty if it will it be a peer on peer high intensity conflict in Europe, an expeditionary task force to defend/regain lost territory the other side of the world, an enduring anti insurgency campaign, or warfare via third parties to whom we provide training and deniable SF support, or some other sort of conflict.
    I would argue that the sensible approach would be to have a balanced armed force with robust SF, light, medium and heavy capabilities. Who are structured, trained and equipped to meet the range of the most likely scenarios.
    Obviously, this will need leadership, sacrifice and some honest conversations with society about finance and priorities and some even more honest and difficult discussions and changes within the armed forces/MOD. I fear that without a painful catalyst none of these will be forthcoming in sufficient quantities resulting in the current very expensive lack of capability, the sub optimum use of existing resources, and the loss of existing capability will continue.
    Mike R

  9. I'd be interested in your views of European defence and how the review might play into this? What future for UK cooperation with Germany, France, the EU and other European nations, both in terms of procurement projects and military cooperation (e.g. combined operations, burden sharing etc)? And how realistic do you think the recent Franco-German list of collaborative projects are?

    1. I don't expect Brexit to change much of anything in this sector, unless the change comes from the continental side out of sheer spite. Unlikely, since UK money is always welcome.

      As for the joint programme for a new fighter for Germany and France, i'm very much sceptical. We'll see.

    2. What about the other proposed French - German projects like new armour and artillery systems etc.?

    3. There's not much to say about them so far. If and when they begin to take a more tangible shape, we'll see if they are of interest to the UK.


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