Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An "oh shit!" moment

So, after the great hopes and the long waiting, we get the big surprise: Dassault is India's preferred bidder for the mammoth 126 fighters order. The Rafale bid was the less expensive, and India will now begin negotiations with Dassault over the details of the deal. Contract signature is probably still months away, and there might be still a chance for a big change to happen if negotiations were to fail...

But the fact remains. Typhoon as of now is out of the game. A true "oh shit!" moment.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Welcome Sea Ceptor

As anticipated a few days ago, one nice news of Planning Round 2012 is that the Common Anti-air Modular Missile (CAMM) has finally hit Main Gate, with a 5 years contract worth 483 million pounds being signed for the completition of work on the Future Local Area Air Defence - Maritime (FLAADS-M) system, the naval iteration of CAMM.

The Royal Navy name for the new missile system, that will replace Sea Wolf, is Sea Ceptor. The missile, a very interesting and innovative system, i have already widely described here.
MBDA's own description of the system says:

CAMM(M) provides a 360° air defence capability for naval forces out to ranges greater than 25km against the current and future air threat. Requiring no dedicated tracker/illuminator radars, CAMM can be cued by a ship’s standard target indication data to provide high levels of protection against multiple simultaneous targets in open ocean and littoral environments. It can also be used against surface targets. The weapon system, which incorporates a 2-way data-link to CAMM missiles in flight, is intended for vessels of corvette size or larger, for either new ships or as a retrofit.
CAMM(M) launch canisters are compatible with SYLVER and Mk41 family launch silos with CAMM utilising features such as folding missile fins to maximise launch canister packing density. The introduction of “soft launch” techniques reduces system mass and allows for more flexibility in terms of installation positions on a ship.


CAMM(L) will provide future land forces with an easily transportable and rapidly deployable local area air defence system capable of operating as a stand alone unit or of being integrated within a future battlespace network. The small foot-print of a CAMM launch site and the low-signature of a CAMM launch increases survivability of air defence assets. CAMM(L) is capable of engaging Non Line of Sight (NLOS) targets if 3rd party targeting information is available; this feature is particularly attractive for engaging concealed Attack Helicopters and low-flying terrain-following cruise missiles.
CAMM(L) is logistically easy to manage with packs of CAMM(L) canisters slotting into launcher frames, so there is no need for man-handling of actual missiles onto launch rails.


The CAMM missile is easily adaptable for air launch from Fast Jets. With modular seeker options and the latest datalink technology, CAMM(A) offers a next generation air-to-air capability. CAMM(A) benefits from MBDA’s experience on the world leading ASRAAM and Meteor air-to-air missile products.

The missile can be quad-packed into a MK41 or Sylver cell, so that, if we were to replace the short-range Aster 15 with CAMM on a Type 45, we could increase the missile load from 48 missiles to 96 without changing the number of missile cells [a standard mix on a Type 45 is thought to be 32 long-range Aster 30 and 16 Aster 15].
Maximum range is around 25 Km and the speed is expected to be superior to Mach 2.5, possibly reaching Mach 3, as the missile is derived from the Mach 3.5 ASRAAM. The latest articles on the press contain an interesting data, putting the "protected area" extension for Sea Ceptor at 800 square kilometers. This means a circular area with the launching ship in the middle and with a radius of roughly 16 km.
Data appearing on the press is, of course, not the best source to make conclusions from, but 16 km is probably a realistic engagement distance, especially against sea-skimming targets. Anti-ship missiles can be expected to be intercepted even closer: the Sea Viper trials saw the Aster 30 missile shooting down an Exocet at 9 km, after all. It is a serious enhancement over Sea Wolf, which is slower, has less range and is not fire and forget but is guided all along by heavy and bulky radar illuminators mounted on the Type 23s in number of two.

MBDA's beautiful interactive catalogue contains excellent data on the CAMM. Be sure to check all pages, and look at the video as well: it is possibly the most interesting thing of all as it shows how the Type 23 will be modified for using CAMM in replacement of Sea Wolf, something that should happen by 2016. The video shows the massive Sea Wolf radar systems and electronics being removed, and the missile silo modified to take 12 quadpacks of CAMM missiles, increasing the loadout of the frigate to 48 missiles.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Interim Afloat Forward Staging Base is already on the way

The old LSD USS Ponce, which will retire March 30 from her current service role, has been identified for conversion into an Interim Afloat Forward Staging Base capable of spending long periods of time in the middle east, “supporting minesweeping operations and acting as base for CH53 heavy helicopters, including those in the mine-countermeasures role”. Crew will be mixed, with regular officers and sailors from the US Navy joined by civilian mariners employed by Military Sealift Command (MSC) giving her an hybrid crew similar to those used on the Navy’s two submarine tenders and the command ship Mount Whitney.

The list of requirements shows more ambitions that just that stated mission of acting as a minesweeper tender, though: the interim AFSB will be a mothership for special forces operations and sea control, as well as a base for RIVERINE boat squadrons operating in the littoral environment. The Minimum Requirements in fact include:

- Berthing and messing for 370 
- Supplies and provisions for at least 14 days, ship must operate 24/7

- Extensive communications fit, with 4 video teleconferencing (VTC) capable planning/conference spaces capable of accommodating 25 personnel each, plus an Operations Center for 20.
- Extensive small-boat support facilities, with the ability of simultaneously mooring and refueling:

·         2 Riverine Command Boats (CB90H modified for american use)
·         4 Small Unit Riverine Crafts (heavily armed boats similar in concept to the Royal Marines's Offshore Raiding Craft)
·         4 MK5 Zodiacs
·         2 7 meter RHIBs

- 2 cranes, one per 10.000 and one per 15.000 lbs capable, with 40 feet reach outwards, the second capable to lower loads all the way down to water level, the first reaching the Aviation Maintenance Area

- Flight deck capable to accommodate simultaneously 4 CH53 helicopters
- Additional Open Deck space for staging kit, 150 feet x 150 feet, contiguous to Flight Deck
- Additional Aviation Maintenance area of 100 x 150 feet, must be at reach of the first crane
- 10.000 gallons of JP5 fuel and two fuel stations on flight deck plus one in the open staging area

The US Navy is now moving real fast towards sea bases. 

In the near future, past this interim solution, one/two Afloat Forward Staging Bases will be required from 2014, and it appears that, for commonality, the US Navy will build them starting from the Mobile Landing Platform already on order, in itself an evolution of civilian Float On, Float Off (FLO/FLO) heavy load vessels.

Three MLPs have been funded for construction at the General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding (NASSCO) shipyard in San Diego. The ships are large, 765-foot-long vessels intended to serve as a transfer station or floating pier at sea, improving the U.S. military’s ability to deliver equipment and cargo from ship to shore when friendly bases are denied, or simply don’t exist. That’s very useful in disaster situations, and equally useful for supporting US Marines once they’re ashore.
Joint High Speed Vessels (ferries), Prepositioned ships (massive Ro-Ros and other supporting vessels derived from civilian designs) and other units not suited for amphibious assaults, with no landing crafts and with a big draft which would normally need a port in order to unload the massive numbers of vehicles and stores they carry, will be able to transfer their payload at sea onto the Mobile Landing Platform (so long as they have side ramps and Sea State is no higher than 3), which will serve as a staging point thanks to a 80.000 square feet mission deck and will have 3 lanes for LCAC landing crafts that will be able to embark the kit and vehicles and bring it all ashore, going back and forth and needing no ports. Transfer of vehicles at sea is eased by the fact that the MLP’s ability to submerge decreases the relative motion problem for offloading in waves, and its modern dynamic positioning system (from Converteam, heavily involved in the propulsion systems of Type 45 destroyers and CVF, in the UK) should improve standoff distance significantly.
An interface to work with older, slower but larger Landing Utility Crafts is also sought, along with proper connections for lighterage and floating piers.

Concept art of the Mobile Landing Platform: the berths for the 3 LCAC and the massive Mission Deck are evident.
The massive Mission Deck is available for incorporating, in future, Berthing modules and Troop Accomodations, Medical facilities, Command and Control, Mission Planning, Connected Replenishment, one container-hangling crane, aviation operating spots and the already tested Test Article Vehicle Transfer System which would enable at sea transfer of vehicles including M1 Abrams tanks in Sea State 4.
TAVTS and helicopter sports and aviation facilities were once part of the original, much more ambitious requirement for the MLP, but were deleted to ensure the design would stay cheap: a Mobile Landing Platform in its current form costs 425.9 million dollars as for FY2012 funding request. They will have a 15 knots speed and a 9500 naval miles range, with a lenght of 255 meters and a beam of 50.

The three MLPs on order are to be named: USNS Montford Point, USNS John Glenn and USNS Lewis B. Puller. They will be operated by the US Military Sealift Command, not by the Navy itself.

Trials of the MLP concept took place in the Gulf of Mexico, with the US Navy leasing the civilian FLO/FLO Mighty Servant, from dutch-based company Dockwise, and using it as a surrogate MLP to demonstrate safe transfer of vehicles at sea, all the way up to Main Battle Tanks, tank recovery vehicles and other oversize vehicles.

For the AFSB role, a fourth MLP will be built, modified with several decks atop the Mission Deck, including a hangar, topped by a large flight deck able to operate the heavy H-53s in the airborne mine countermeasures role, MV-22 troops transports and other helicopters.
The AFSB will also be able to carry Marines, support patrol and special operations craft, and fuel and arm other helicopters.
The first AFSB is expected to be requested in 2014, but the third MLP on order might be turned into an AFSB as well.

There are and will be alternative approaches available in future, though: one of the most interesting is this Maersk proposal for conversion of their massive S-class container ships (357 meters long and 42.8 wide, with 25 knots speed). They offer 40-tons cranes, Ro-Ro space for 144 Humvee-sized vehicles or loads of other vehicles, the TATVS interface, hangar and flight deck for 15 MV22 Osprey, 200-beds hospital and modular accommodations and spaces for "up to 6000" men, with 30 days endurance without replenishment. Their cost estimate of 400 million is, however, clearly wildly optimistic.
It remains a very fascinating and interesting proposal. See the video below, and the brochure here.

I made my personal proposal as well, for a barge combining MLB and AFSB functions, delivered via commercial FLO/FLO vessel, targeted at the Royal Navy. It can be seen in detail here.

My own proposal for the Joint Sea Base; Logistics, targeted at the Royal Navy

Friday, January 27, 2012

Debate on the SDSR at the House of Commons - 26 January

Future Force 2020 is configured to "get away from the focus on mass" typical of the Cold War towards a "flexible, agile" force configured for "expeditionary warfare" and shaped around "carrier strike", according to Hammond.
It is a big point scored for the aircraft carriers, if it is a strategic direction and not just words.

Next few years will see big change "on the ground" due to the return of the Army from Germany and Afghanistan and due to the change in structure into "5 Multi Role Brigades". The MRB remains the plan, five remains the number, despite rumors suggesting otherwise. 

Planning Round 2012 is being shaped, and mr. Hammond is "confident" that the MOD is about to close the budget gap and that, from next year, it will be able to plan on budget.
However, the rumor is that the MOD is trying to renegotiate contracts to achieve savings, 3000 more civilians will be cut from the MOD, and reductions/delays might hit FRES SV in order to achieve an (hopefully final) cut of 2 billions, as the MOD is currently overbudget and must re-enter. No further cuts in troop numbers are anticipated, and the Puma HC2, which was reported at risk, is now expected to be safe.
RAF Northolt airport could however be sold, entirely or in part, and become an alternative to the contested plan for an additional runway at Heatrow. The airport could be sold by the MOD for a lot of money, but i suspect that, even if it eventually gets sold, part of the airport will remain in use for the RAF.
The debate at the House of Commons unfortunately did not expand on any of this.

The US Defense cuts and budget priorities

The US Defense Budget preview has been released, and it is now possible to see where the cuts are heading: as i expected, the cut to the US Marines is big, but not at all substantial. Generally, the Navy and Marines are the services who get the best deal. The cuts announced are:

US Army
-          Cancellation of the HUMVEE recapitalization and modernization plan, judged surplus to requirement. Funding will be directed towards the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, to be developed in collaboration with the US Marines. This effectively reverses some decisions in the past years that favored the opposite approach by funding hummer modernization over the new JLTV.
-          Reduction of funding to the Ground Combat Vehicle
-          Manpower will go down from the peak of 570.000 in 2012 to 490.000 in the next five years
-          At least 8 Brigade Combat Teams will be cut, from 45 to 37. This still represents a larger Army than the 2003 force (33 BCTs). In addition, the US Army will be considering the space of maneuver for exploiting these cuts in order to reinforce the existing BCTs by adding a third maneuver unit (All BCTs save for Stryker brigades have only 2 maneuver battalions). The cuts seem set to hit almost exclusively the Regular force.
-          A number of bases surplus to requirement will be closed.
-          2 Heavy BCTs are to leave Europe and be replaced by a rotational presence

-          The 2007 expansion in manpower for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq is being cancelled by a 20.000 soldiers cut that will bring the Corps back to their previous strength of 182.000
-          The long term plan is to keep up the number and force of the amphibious fleet, with no reductions in the requirements. However, Fiscal Year FY2013 will see a one year delay placed on the acquisition of one LHA, delaying LHA-7 from 2016 into 2017. In addition, two older LSD-41s will be retired without immediate replacement.
-          The F35B plan stands, but orders in the next five years will be slowed down (details to follow).
-          Funding will be added for an “Afloat-Forward Staging Base that can be dedicated to support missions in areas where ground-based access is not available, such as counter-mine operations.” No details have been released, but this new kind of vessel fits into the “Sea Basing” developments. An Afloat-Forward Staging Base, in the USMC books, traditionally indicates a vessel capable to operate and maintain helicopters (a floating heliport with extensive maintenance facilities, accommodations, space for spares etcetera). To get an idea of what the Afloat base could be in the end, take a look at the video on this page. The AFSB and the Mobile Landing Platforms (the second programme, for 3 vessels, is already ongoing) are fundamental to the Sea Basing concept.  

US Navy
-          11 Carrier battlegroups confirmed, along with 10 Carrier Air Wings. There will be however a 33 months gap time with only 10 carriers available as USS Enterprise retires before John F. Kennedy is completed and enters service. Aircraft Carriers are confirmed as a fundamental part of the US defense strategy and requirements.
-          The acquisition of 1 Virginia SSN submarine will be delayed out of FY2013 and past 2017. However, funding will be added to increase the cruise missile capacity of the SSNs of the next production batches. The change will add 2 more multiple all-up round canisters (from 2 vertical launch tubes to 4) with each containing 6 TLAMs. Each Virginia will so have at least 24 Vertical Launch TLAMs aboard, probably starting from Block 5, to be ordered in 2019.
-          The construction of replacement SSBNs (SSBN(X) will be delayed by 2 years, into the from 2019 to 2021. Design for the new boat continues unfazed, however, and the document reassures that there is no impact on the Common Missile Compartment and on the UK’s own SSBN-replacement effort.
-          Funding will be made available to invest in a submarine-launched variant of the Prompt Global Strike missile system pursued by the air force. Prepare to hear a lot more talk in the next few years about “conventionally-armed Trident”. It will be interesting to see what shapes this new system eventually takes. Earlier proposals by the George W. Bush administration to develop conventional warheads for submarine-launched Trident nuclear ballistic missiles were rebuffed by critics who questioned how other nations could tell the difference between a nuclear or conventional weapon launch, but the US now say they have the technology to make the missiles distinguishable, thanks to a different, “flatter” trajectory. More details will no doubt emerge in the next future.
-          6 out of 22 Ticonderoga Anti Air Warfare cruisers will be retired. Only one of them has been modernized for Anti-Ballistic role, but is in need of other expensive repairs and overhauls. The Ticos, as impressive and heavily armed as they are, are old and have always had their defects.
-          2 Littoral Combat Ships will be delayed and removed from FY2013 funding, along with 8 Joint High Speed Vessels (modified civilian ferries for the rapid transport of troops and material over the sea). The commitment to 55 LCS was confirmed, but the cut to JHSV might be definitive.
-          F35 plans and long-term numbers are confirmed, but with a very substantial slow-down in acquisitions over the 5 years from 2013 to 2017.
-          The Navy will receive funding to start work for basing a LCS flotilla in Singapore. Patrol crafts will be based in Bahrain. In later FYs the US Navy plans to base a second LCS flotilla away from the US mainland, in Bahrain. A third LCS flotilla will be in Japan, based in Yokosuka.
-          The NQ-4 Broad Area Maritime Surveillance drone (BAMS) continues. Based on the Global Hawk airframe and performances, this drone will have an incredible range and very long endurance. It will carry radar and EO sensors and communication relay payloads to provide more non-satellite bandwidth to the Navy. The US Navy plans for global coverage thanks to this drone, which will see squadrons based in an airport on the Gulf of Mexico, in one base on the US West coast, in Bahrain and in Sigonella, Sicily. Sigonella will also receive P8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
-          F35 plans and long term numbers confirmed, but delays in acquisition in the 5 years out to 2017.

-          The USAF will cut 6 out of its 60 Tactical Fighter Wings, plus a Training squadron. It is a cut of some 108 to 144 airplanes, but the defense documents judges the reduction “safe” as the remaining force is judged more than sufficient.
-          27 old super cargo planes C5A will be retired. This will leave in service 52 C5M (modernized)
-          65 old C130s will be retired, leaving 318 in service.
-          By 2013 the C17 production for the USAF will be complete, with the delivery of the 223th airplane. No cuts planned to this fleet, which the USAF once planned in just 180 airplanes but that was expanded again and again by political intervention that added orders each FY to keep production open. The USAF is not complaining, anyway: with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the C17 fleet, even enlarged, works hard.
-          The Joint Cargo Aircraft C27J is being cancelled. The 38 airplanes acquired so far and positively still new will be “disposed of”. Bargain price deals for excellent second-hand machines?
-          The Global Hawk Block 30 fleet is being retired from service and mothballed. The Block 30 is the recce variant that was intended to replace the ancient U2 manned plane, but according to the USAF, the Block 30 is a disaster. Its sensors are nowhere near as good as the U2’s ones. Each Global Hawk Block 30 costs a shocking 215 million dollars (there goes your “UAVs are cheap”!, a C17 with spares and support comes at 256 million and a F35 in the current, expensive low-rate production lots at around 150) and, worse, has the tendency to break down constantly. USAF sources have stated that the Block 30 is a true “hangar queen”, and that due to its inferior sensors it makes no sense to keep it flying. The worst part is that USAF sources have declared that “despite Discovery Channel hype” the UAV sensors (at least those of this ambitious drone in particular) are “billions of dollars away” from meeting their promises. The U2 will now fly at least until 2023, with plans for 42 Global Hawk Block 30 scrapped.
It is not completely a defeat for the RQ-4, however: the Global Hawk Block 40 will continue: this variant uses the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) radar, a powerful ground surveillance system designed to create photo-quality imagery of the Earth’s surface and overlay moving ground targets over those. The German “EuroHawk”, a national programme for 5 Global Hawks modified for ISR missions, is continuing, as is the NATO Air Ground Surveillance system, which will use 5 Global Hawks Block 40 to base in Sigonella. The Block 4 will cover the same kind of mission of the RAF Sentinel R1, capturing radar imagery and tracking stationary and moving ground targets.
As said in the US Navy space, the BAMS variant also continues.     
-          MQ-1 and MQ-9 (Predator and Reaper) are winners in the plan. The combined fleets will be enhanced, expanded and funded so to be able to provide 65 Close Air Patrols per day, with a surge capacity for 85. A CAP normally means 3 drones rotating daily for 24 hours coverage of a target area.
-          There are no additional details, but F35 long-term plan is confirmed, as is the requirement for a new strategic bomber and funding will be provided for the Prompt Global Strike programme.

Specific Programs

-          Nuclear deterrence. For now the “Triad” is confirmed, but reductions will be considered. In my opinion, being the submarine-launched missiles the most survivable and effective deterrence, eventual reductions will preferably hit the silo-based Minuteman missiles and/or the nukes delivered by air force bombers.
-          F35 will see a substantial slowdown in acquisition in the fiscal years 2013 to 2017. In 2013 the US will buy 29, 13 F35 less than planned. In 2014 they will buy only 29 out of a planned 62, 44 out of 81 in 2015 and 61 out of 108 in 2016. They however confirmed all three the F35 variants and maintain their commitment to a 2443 airplanes buy. Eventually, up to 179 F35s will be delayed to later years while development continues and the problems remaining are solved. So far, the cuts outlined indicate delays to 130 airplanes.
-          The Joint Air-Ground Missile is getting its funding slice massively reduced, with the forces invited to consider cheaper options. This could mean longer life for TOW, Hellfire and Maverick. Or, perhaps, US interest in the Brimstone Dual Mode, which is the closest thing available to what the JAGM was to deliver (a tri-seeker multimission missile for use from ground launchers, helicopters, drones and fast jets of Navy, Marines and USAF). The JAGM is not dead, and the idea feels just too good to let it go: it could make a big return in future budgets.
-          The Army Ground Combat Vehicle is slowed down.

The heavy emphasis on power projection and maritime strategy is absolutely evident in the choices made by the US. There is no mention of meeting the 313-ships plan, for the moment, but the general direction is absolutely naval oriented, so it is unlikely that there will be a dramatic breakaway from the plan even in case some reductions are mandated.

I think the nuclear force is and should be a main target for cuts. The US still field an incredible arsenal, and while they have to balance Russia’s own huge stock, I don’t see the need for a full Triad of nuclear capability. The most survivable and effective delivery method is by ballistic missiles fired by submarines, so I’d say that this branch is mostly safe. Possibly, the most vulnerable part of the Triad is the land-based, silo-launched Minuteman fleet. It would be the first thing I’d cut back if I had to reap savings.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Remember that Oman deal for Typhoons...?

The one that was seen as certain already in 2010, so much so that the MOD booked in its accounts 500 million pounds well before the actual deal was signed.

Back then, negotiations verted on two options, each about 24 Typhoon jets. One option for Oman was to buy Tranche 1s modernized (Block 8, FRG4 standard, in other words) from the RAF, which would have further slowed down the buildup of the Typhoon force but would have greatly helped the MOD balance the books. The other option, the favorite one, was for Oman buying 24 slots from the Tranche 3B allocations of the UK, allocations that are not going to be taken up by Great Britain.

However, the order failed to materialize, and last month Oman ordered a further package of 12 (2 twin and 10 single seats) F16s fighters from the US, in a 600 million dollars deal. BAE systems had confirmed, literally weeks before, that negotiations for the Typhoon buy were ongoing and that they were absolutely certain that an order would come.
My interpretation of the day was that, for financial and political reason, Oman had probably decided to split the 24-jets buy in half.

There is now indications of it being the exact interpretation. The government of Oman has requested that BAE Systems submit a formal bid for the supply of Typhoon fighter aircraft, for equipping one Squadron (so roughly 12 airplanes), along with training and support. [the training voice is going to be interesting: how will they sustain a single-squadron fleet? With just 12 airplanes, no OCU and no margins, they are going to have a very small number of Typhoons ready for actual use in fighting.... Will their pilots come to the UK for training and conversion on the Typhoon?]

Anyway, times are going to be, once more, long. BAE expects negotiations to be over by the end of the year (!) with deliveries of the first jet coming 36 months later.

Still a good news for the Typhoon programme and for british industry and jobs, and perhaps it is a good news for the MOD, too, to a degree.
However times are long even in the optimistic plans (last time BAE talked about this order, in early 2011, the deal was to be signed "within months") and the order is halved compared to expectations.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Future Force 2020: the strategy

Before entering the thick of the Force Structure 2020 posts explaining my thinking about the armed forces future, I deem necessary to add a new post about strategic considerations. I draw heavily from the latest US Defense Strategy document, that expresses concepts I agree with, and that are absolutely valid for the UK as well.
It is also indispensable for the UK to keep in consideration the strategic posture of the US, as they are the main partner and the main force the UK look up to for providing the numbers and capabilities necessary for the complex ops.  So I’m going to report some passages of the US strategy document ”Joint Operational Access Concept” that are the concepts over which much of my reasoning for the future british armed forces structure is based.

Projecting U.S. military force invariably requires extensive use of international waters, international airspace, nonsovereign cyberspace, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. U.S. access to and freedom of navigation within these global commons are vital to its national interests, both because the American way of life requires free access to the global marketplace and as a means for projecting military force into hostile territory. Even where the ultimate objective is the latter, operations in the global commons may be critical if an enemy attempts to gain strategic depth by pushing armed opposition out into international spaces. In fact, the contest over operational access can dominate practically all other considerations in warfare, as it did throughout the Pacific theater and in the battle for the North Atlantic during the Second World War.

This first point is absolutely valid for the UK as well. Operation Granby is perhaps the best example of this, as it required by far the most extensive use of international waters and airspaces, plus foreign nation support, cyberspace, space and electromagnetic spectrum. The UK is not at all less dependent than the US from sealanes and freedom of navigation: very possibly, it is even more dependent, in fact.
In peacetime as in wartime, the UK is heavily dependent on sealanes, and the most effective way to hit the UK, its economy and its military might, is interrupting freedom of navigation.
Defending freedom of navigation and port infrastructure in the UK is one of the most vital tasks of the british Armed Forces. Security of navigation and sealanes are also absolutely indispensable for the UK to apply power abroad.
The first way to deny UK power is making it impossible for the UK to deploy its forces. With over 90% of the equipment of a modern army still being pretty much bound to the sea for transportation (again, Gramby teaches), sealift and protection of sealift assets are perhaps the absolute priority.  

Influences decisions on:

-          Port and infrastructure security
-          Naval escorts
-          Maritime Patrol Aircraft needs
-          Force Protection

Historically, a key way to mitigate the degrading effects of distance has been to establish forward bases in the anticipated operational area, thereby maintaining some of the capabilities of a home base at a distant location. The more capability and capacity that a military can amass at the forward base, the more it can mitigate the effects of distance. Moreover, permanent or long-term forward bases can assure partners and deter adversaries. The ability to establish new  expeditionary bases, or to improve those already in existence, also can serve as deterrent options. Conversely, a forward base becomes a resource requiring protection and sustainment and can even become a political liability, often by causing friction with the host nation or within the region.

Forward basing, when possible, is a very effective way to preserve a point of access to, potentially, a whole region. The UK has some very important forward bases, with four being particularly relevant: Gibraltar, Cyprus, Bahrain and Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia isn’t very frequently used by british forces, but its relevance is incredible for the US, and its importance in the coming years will only grow. The US Navy recently announced that also a submarine tender vessel will be soon based there.
Forward bases, though, are expensive. In Bahrain, the UK based forces benefit from facilities and services often provided by the UK, including deployed Force Protection crafts for the defence of ports and moored ships. The british naval base in the area was shut in 1971, and the return of UK forces in the area in recent times builds on the presence there of the US’s Fifth Fleet.

To base troops abroad, an agreement with a host nation is indispensable. Regular investment, in money and manpower, is required to keep the base active and running. The investment can be very significant, depending on the amount of infrastructure needed and available. Bahrain is cheap thanks to the US help, but this is not at all always valid.
Basing troops abroad has a deep political impact, at home and abroad. Not always presence will deliver the hoped effects, and bases abroad can be met with changing local policies and with open hostility. Gibraltar is an example of base that carries with itself a significant amount of tension with Spain. The Falklands are not exactly a forward base today, but tomorrow they might be if the south pole continent, as many anticipate, will become increasingly relevant to the global economy thanks to the large untapped resources hidden under the ice, and it notoriously carries its own burden of hostility and political sensitiveness.
Forward bases are vulnerable to many factors, which include, potentially, waning internal support for their existence: the government of the day might well decide to downsize or shut down missions abroad as an easy saving.
They are vulnerable to local governments, which might change their mind and retire support (the US have experienced this situation with several bases in the Caucasus, being kicked out of several installations important for the Afghan effort. Pakistan can be seen, in its own way, as another example of the risks), they are potentially source of tension, offer unfriendly countries an argument to launch accuses on the media that influence the public opinion if not the international community, and they are also vulnerable to physical attacks, by conventional and/or unconventional means.  

Forward basing of 5000 US soldiers in Saudi Arabia post Desert Storm, and their long-term presence, were perhaps the absolute main argument used by Osama Bin Laden to fuel muslim rage that shaped Al Qaeda: “great evil” forces on their sacred land was unacceptable. Consequences have been very, very serious.

Forward engagement is often preferable: no permanent on-land presence, but joint training exercises, naval presence, aid and disaster relief and other forms of engagement are a good solution, but do not offer the same “open door” for access in time of crisis that an established base represents. Balance, as in all things, is necessary.


-          Decisions on forward engagement and forward basing of forces; partnering.
-          Employment of naval presence, joint training and other collaboration

The presence of forward-deployed or other in-range combat forces at the beginning of a crisis can facilitate operational access—and sometimes even deter acts of aggression in the first place. Naval forces, which can remain on station in international waters almost indefinitely, are especially suited to such missions, as could be special operations forces inserted clandestinely. Air and space forces can exploit speed and global range to move quickly into position in response to an emerging crisis. That said, forward-deployed forces, like advanced bases, can be vulnerable to attack, particularly given a lack of advanced warning.


-          Decisions on sea-lift, sea-basing, sea-logistics and Task Forces including a powerful forcible entry capability

In shaping its new Defense Posture, which in turn will determine force structure, cuts and investments, the US notes that future challenges are characterized by 3 main factors:

The first factor is markedly decreased support abroad for an extensive network of U.S. military bases around the globe. In an increasingly globalized world, there is much greater international competition for regional influence and access. Immediately after the Cold War, states had few partnership options other than the United States, but today numerous rising powers provide alternatives. Whether due to coercive threats or inducements offered by other powers, many states will be unwilling to offer the kind of long-term basing rights the United States enjoyed during the Cold War. Gaining basing rights for expeditionary operations is already a primary concern for U.S. military planners and diplomats, and that challenge is likely to grow.

The second factor is projections of severely contracting resources. Even were there an international appetite for it, the United States simply could not afford to  establish garrisons around the globe in response to every plausible threat, especially in an era of dynamic uncertainty in which threats could emerge unpredictably.

The third factor is force protection. In an age of increased terrorism, increasingly affordable precision weapons, and heightened sensitivity to perceived impositions on national sovereignty, U.S. garrisons on foreign soil become both causes of friction and inviting targets. American sensitivity to casualties, especially to a garrison force outside a war zone, only exacerbates the problem.

These considerations are just as valid for the UK, either if acting independently or in coalition, almost certainly with the US themselves. 


-          Better efforts in understanding local cultures and issues
-         Increased efforts in shaping solid and fair partnerships of common interests in the important regions
-       Preserving and expanding the capability to apply, project and sustain power abroad, in the awareness that local support and bases could be insufficient/negated/inexistent.

The US strategy draws a painting of the future challenges that is very complete and convincing:

Future enemies, both states and nonstates, will see the adoption of an antiaccess/area-denial strategy against the United States as a favorable course
of action for them. Those able to field layered and fully integrated antiaccess/area-denial defenses in multiple domains may attempt to deny U.S. operational access altogether, while others with less robust and comprehensive capabilities may simply attempt to inflict greater losses than they perceive the United States will tolerate politically.

Any example of such a strategy likely will exhibit some common critical
elements, to include:

1)   Long-term shaping operations prior to conflict, including information operations, designed to increase influence and build up antiaccess/area denial capabilities in a region and to encourage regional actors to deny the United States the political conditions that facilitate access.

2)   Imposing a steeper cost than the United States is willing to bear—either
through a catastrophic attack or an attrition-based defeat mechanism
designed to create substantial casualties.

3)   Creating as much strategic and operational depth as possible within
which to inflict casualties, even interdicting deploying U.S. forces by
sabotage at their points of origin or ports of embarkation.

4)   Attacking U.S. forward bases, whether by missiles, special operations units, or irregular forces—to include the use of weapons of mass destruction.

5)   Attacking U.S. command and control and communications, especially long-range capabilities, to include space and cyber capabilities.

6)   Attacking U.S. distribution operations at either fixed points or vulnerable
choke points in the lines of communications or through cyber attacks that disrupt logistics command and control.

7)   Employing antiaccess and area-denial capabilities in combination to contest local air and maritime superiority and land freedom of maneuver.

Beyond those common elements, any example of an antiaccess strategy will conform itself uniquely to the capabilities of the enemy and other situational factors.

Forward bases, including mobile seabases, constitute critical access infrastructure which supports the deployment of forces and supplies.
The greater the capabilities and capacity that can be established at or flowed through the base, the greater the force that ultimately can be projected.
Future enemies consequently can increasingly be expected to attack those bases as part of an antiaccess/area-denial strategy in an attempt to restore the penalty of distance.

IEDs themselves are an obvious example of attempts to impose an higher than acceptable cost on the public opinion and consequently on governments, aiming for a withdrawal decision. Another tactic seen in these years has been that of kidnappings, more than once ended in brutal executions and beheadings that were filmed and made available to the public to apply pressure.
The risk of said tactics actually working can be very high, depending on the resolution of the government and people facing these attempts. The very latest example of this approach in action is exemplified by the murder of unarmed French soldiers in Afghanistan which have sparked very serious reactions in Paris, with Sarkozy well aware of the impact that events such as those have on a public opinion already largely contrary to the long conflict.

Attacking forward bases is also something we know well: it is a multiface menace that goes from kamikazes to lone wolfs operating inside the bases with friendly uniforms, waiting for the occasion to strike, from mortars to artillery and rockets (the soldiers serving in Basra are well versed with the threat of RAM), from snipers all the way to cruise and even ballistic missiles.
Effects of these attacks can be very serious: a rocket attack on Kandahar on 14 October 2005 destroyed a RAF Harrier and damaged another, taking off 30% of available air support to troops until a replacement Harrier was flown in from the UK. Even more recently, in May 2011 a Navy base in Pakistan was stormed by terrorists who caused great damage, and in particular destroyed most of Pakistan’s P3C Orion fleet on the ground.

To reduce vulnerability, and to counter the very simple reality that we can’t have (and man and finance) bases everywhere, a solution is seen in seabasing:

[one option is] seabasing, which reduces sovereignty issues that often can preclude the establishment of forward bases. The inherent mobility of seabasing can complicate the enemy’s defensive preparations by making the objective remain ambiguous through holding a large coastal area at risk. It can enhance security by complicating the enemy’s detection and targeting.
Seabasing options may be limited by capacity. One other option is to emphasize capabilities with minimal dependence on forward bases, such as amphibious, long-range strike, cyber, electronic, or space capabilities, either in primary or supporting roles.

The above considerations influence:

-          Investment in Force Protection and C-RAM defences
-          Investment in sea-basing, including sea-based logistics
-          Amphibiousness and provision of deployable airpower from aircraft carriers 

The air is another domain generally suitable for the early focus of effort, again because air forces tend not to operate in massed formations that make them vulnerable to catastrophic loss and because they tend to be broadly effective in bringing power to bear rapidly against other domains. Finally, special operations forces are valuable for locating, targeting, and destroying key enemy capabilities, as well as for cultivating indigenous resistance elements that can help disrupt the antiaccess/area-denial strategy. Like space and cyberspace forces, special operations forces likely will be in position, often operating in denied territory, in advance of the commitment of major forces to set the conditions for the employment of those forces. Operations to maintain or gain access in the
maritime commons can build on these low signature operations, avoid high density threat antiaccess weapons, and maneuver to achieve surprise and rapid operations.

I entirely agree with the above, and Special Forces and RAF will have their own very relevant roles to play. Of course, the UK cannot afford a stealth, intercontinental, optionally manned heavy bomber like the USAF, but Long Range, Non Penetrating strike platforms and approach figure in my ideal strategy, alongside, in the longer term, a stealth, long range UCAV (ideally carrier capable) that will be the UK’s own strategic bomber, at much smaller ambition and cost levels, but still effective.

Ultimately, the target of the US (and of the UK, and of anyone else) when applying force abroad, by any mean, is to, very generally speaking, influence events ashore. Peoples and government and countries exist on land, and it is on land that the final result is to be obtained. This means that, whatever the strategy of the moment and whatever the medium chosen (land battles, air power, sea power, more often a combination of two or of all three), ultimately the results of the campaign depend on what happens ashore.
Land forces remain fundamental, even in a Sea-centered strategy. However, size and configuration of land forces have to be set on the base of a firm strategy that squeezes the most effect out of every single man and vehicle, within a physical and a financial boundary, a reality which is all the more felt by the UK than not by the US.

In terms of land forces, the new US strategy notes:

In contrast, large land forces generally will be the last to penetrate within range of an enemy’s antiaccess and area-denial weapons because of the potential for catastrophic loss. That is not irrevocably true however. Land forces, for example, could be used to seize advanced bases on the outskirts of an enemy’s defenses from which to project air and naval power into the heart of those defenses. Moreover, small land or surface naval forces, to include special operations forces, could infiltrate an enemy’s antiaccess defenses undetected.


Each [Land Maneuver] formation will operate in multiple domains as required. While maneuvering independently, they will maintain the ability to concentrate smoothly into larger formations as necessary. While they will be self-contained with respect to the envisioned mission, the joint force will be able to support them quickly with external capabilities as needed—principally additional air, space, electronic, and cyberspace capabilities, which can best mitigate the latency imposed by distance.

The modern, current structure of the US army is thus confirmed: the basic land maneuver formation, the Brigade Combat Team (Heavy, Stryker, Infantry, all with total strengths sitting between 3000 and 4000 men) is confirmed, as is the new asset of the army, with tens of modular Combat Support Brigades in the most various roles, ready to be assigned to this or that BCT, or within “larger formations” that are the Divisions.
Modern US Divisions, however, are merely modular Headquarters with an establishment of around 1000 men, that in peacetime oversee training and management of 4 BCTs each, but that can be deployed abroad to command totally different BCTs, of any kind, from a minimum of 1 to a maximum of 10 per HQ.

This is possible because the US Army of today, modular, coherent force of Regulars and Reserves, can deploy, at any one time, a force of up to 20 BCTs, as we’ll see in the next post of the series.
The UK, which reasons on a very different, very smaller scale, cannot think to have tens of modular brigades to group up for the various tasks. It cannot afford to have BCTs of various types, as an army of 2 Armored Brigades and 2 Light Brigades couldn’t sustain any of them in the field in the long term in their intended form.
The solution found has been the Multi Role Brigade, a larger BCT that combines the capabilities of all three kinds of US ones, including heavy armor, wheeled medium armor (there’s the aspiration to get it in time, at least) and Infantry. The minimum number of homogeneous brigades needed to keep one deployed long term is 5, for the British Army.
So the MRB concept is set. I won’t move away from it, and I do not think there are realistic, effective alternatives.

I will, however, outline my vision for the whole force of the Army, including the ideal role and support that I’d want from the future, reformed Army reserve.
On April 12 the Army should announce the result of its planning for restructuring, and we’ll see how close I’ll be to reality. I expect my vision to be different, and probably more ambitious here and there than the real one will be, but it will be interesting to see this in time.

In conclusion:

The United Kingdom remains depended on free trade and sealanes. It remains a nation engaged at global level, with far-reaching interests and with a number of Oversea Territories and allies that look at the UK for support. Consequently, high up on the list of priorities remains the capability to defend freedom of trade and navigation. The requirement for applying power abroad, Influencing, Coercing and Punishing remains real and supported by very tangible economic interests and not just by chivalrous concepts such as “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P).
The risk of direct invasion of the UK mainland is currently extremely low, and likely to be low for a long time. High is instead the risk of terrorist attacks on specific infrastructure and/or towns and people. Particularly damaging would be terrorist attacks hitting port and energy infrastructures.
Risks exist of invasion and military/politic blackmailing against oversea territories of the UK, such as Belize and Falklands islands. Other oversea territories deal with cyclical natural disasters and drug trafficking (Caribbean territories). The UK is also tied by close relationships to many nations, from the Commonwealth to European Union, to the Northern Countries of Scandinavia. Through NATO, the UK has wide-ranging responsibilities, and is involved in the effort for producing security for countries menaced to this day, including Georgia and the Baltic republics.
Economic relations of growing importance tie the UK to Brazil and India. Old promises exist that tie even UK and South Korea (the peace document signed at the end of the Korean war contains the commitment of the allies, including the UK, to collaborate again, should it ever be needed, to keep stability and peace in Korea). Other relationships exist in the South East Asia, such as the 5 Powers Agreement, and a recent document signed with Vietnam.
Economic interests of the UK are global, and a heavy focus for security and energy needs remains on the Middle East: a significant portion of the UK’s oil, but in particular 50% of the UK’s gas supplies, still come from the Gulf. The implications of a Nuclear-armed Iran, or the consequences of piracy or worse of a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz remain absolutely grave for the UK.
In other words, while a direct military attack against the Uk mainland is absolutely unlikely, terrorism and attacks, direct or indirect, conventional or unconventional, against british interests overseas are much more likely. Economic, Historic and Political ties mean that the UK’s interests reach far away across the world.
Combined, these considerations make it evident that the Armed Forces must be able of preventing and reacting, and power projection is fundamental, as whatever crisis comes up next, it will almost certainly emerge far away from the UK.

The British Armed Forces are part of the tools that the UK possesses for Influencing events, Coerce and Punish. They must be kitted to do so at great distance from the UK, where it is more likely that their presence will be needed. They must be as independent as possible in doing this, to give the UK a credible sovereign capability and to make the UK an attractive partner inside a coalition. In a tight budget, where each investment has to be evaluated in context and demonstrate that it is more needed than another, strategic enablers are to be preferred and given priority against capabilities common and already available to most allies, or simple numeric strenght. Quantity has of course a quality of its own, but the quantity game never fit the UK, and certainly does not fit today's budget and perception of the military.

Seen with the prism of the new US Strategic Posture, of the new economics of the world and of NATO, the UK’s military role as part of the alliance becomes, despite cuts, a Leading Role that the UK has not had in a long time. Said leading role will be in cohabitation with France, and it is a new role that the US are once more encouraging, if not flat-out asking the UK to assume. France and UK have the budget, the force and the experience needed to constitute a leading, hard core for the European NATO, with the rest of Europe to pool resources and do things with coordination and collaboration, to put “flesh on the UK/France bones”.
The US strategy contains the specific admission that, as Asia becomes the main focus of the American attention and the resources are now too tight to be a “two oceans/two wars” superpower, an Europe able to look after its own neighbor with much less US assistance than in the past is an absolute necessity.   

In this resource-constrained era, we will also work with NATO allies to develop a “Smart Defense” approach to pool, share, and specialize capabilities as needed to meet 21st century challenges.

UK Defence Minister Philip Hammond, in Washington for high level talks, echoed this sentiment in his own speech, recommending a thorough assessment of NATO's capabilities in order to subsequently stacke these against its current ambitions.Such an analysis would provide the basis for choices regarding 

"greater pooling and sharing of capabilities; mission, role and geographic specialization; greater sharing of technology; cooperation on logistics; alignment of research-and-development programs, and more collaborative training."

 "Prioritizing ruthlessly, specializing aggressively and collaborating unsentimentally. ... With budgets so tight, allies need to revisit approaches and ideas that might previously have seemed politically unacceptable,"

It becomes very much instructive to go back a few steps, to read what Professor Julian Lindley-French, Defence Academy of the Netherlands, member of the Strategic Advisory Group in Washington, and part of the board of the NATO Defence College in Rome, said to the UK Parliamentary Defence Committee on 8 June 2011. 
His immensely interesting answers, which i had already underlined back then, do ring even more true now, and in particular this statement is of extreme importance: 

The new enduring relationship—I will avoid the "special relationship" phrase—is ultimately, in Washington's mind, with both Republicans and Democrats, built on our [UK's] ability to leverage other partners, primarily Europeans but also Commonwealth members. If we lose that ability because of a profound perception of our decision not to be a major second-rank power, our influence in Washington will decline further. There will be very clear strategic, practical implications.

The specific impact will be on NATO, because what is generating and becoming very clear in Washington is that the Americans are increasingly becoming an Asia-Pacific power. What they will look for—in a sense, Libya is increasingly the test case—is Europeans under Anglo-French leadership to look after our bit of the world, which is a pretty rough neighbourhood, while an overstretched America deals with the epicentre of change in south and east Asia. If we cannot step up to that leadership role, and we are choosing not to adopt it, the fundamental assumption in the NSS that the Americans will always ultimately be there for our security and our defence is being undermined.

UK and France can work as a solid skeleton, providing a core of specialized capabilities and kit that the rest of Europe can beef up with contributions, if a proper coordination is established and if the UK comes up with a solid strategic concept that goes in this direction and finances it without constant hesitation and second thoughts. Who's followed this post and my comments from some time, knows that this has been my position for a long time, and that i was expecting the US review to take this direction.

The SDSR and the Lancaster Treaty have sanctioned the UK's interdependence on Allies anyway. A truth long known, in relation to need the US help for when the game gets serious. The best thing to do, accepted this reality, is to play a leading role in the interdependent alliance, and gain solid US support and appreciation by leading the European side of NATO, alongside with France.
Failing in stepping up to this role will spell a major drop in relevance of the UK and severely affect the “enduring relationship”, as Lindley-French effectively defined it. 

The Armed Forces are and remain one of the most valuable tools in the UK’s box, more valuable than most people understand. And this is a painful but crucial time, that offers an opportunity hidden behind the pains.

Next post in the series: 

Moving away from Divisions  - Brigades, BCTs, and the future british army structure