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article imageOp-Ed: UK ‘reinventing’ new modern defence but no solid facts?

By Paul Wallis     Oct 28, 2020 in World
London - The UK’s Integrated Operating Concept has flagged massive modernization of UK defence, but with a lot of undefined parameters. If the UK can deliver a new defence framework, it’ll be in the face of Brexit, new economic conditions, and more.
Skepticism is the main current reaction. The Integrated Operating Concept includes a hefty dose of rhetoric. The theory as stated, however, does tackle some serious issues for modern military forces:
Competition: This is a recognition and response to the ongoing competition between countries regarding weapons systems, technologies, etc. In the last 40 years, whole generations of systems have come and gone. The global context for warfighting has also changed drastically.
Strategy: Gen. Nick Carter, The Chief of Defence Staff referred to the new environment of ‘unconstrained” warfare” (without regard to international law) as a key factor. Carter cited the predominantly political, strategic, synchronized and systematic conduct of wars by authoritarian powers in this context.
Not much specific has been mentioned regarding the UK’s new defence model. A move away from conventional military to cyberwarfare, space-based and artificial intelligence has been implied. This is about as non-specific as possible. Other factors include stealth, agility, and sophisticated systems. Carter had the decency to point out that these were unpredictable factors.
So… Get rid of the existing defence model?
Rumours have been around for a while that British armoured forces would be scrapped and that hard fighting capacity is essential. The new concept, also states that continuity of existing systems is part of the evolutionary process.
This bit of information conflicts with reports that the British army is to scrap its existing armoured forces. Not everyone agrees with that decision. Experts point out that other armies, like the Netherlands, scrapped their armour, and had to rebuild their armour afterward.
• The Integrated Operating Concept proposal is also at odds with a few other British core interests, military and otherwise:
• Losing the armoured fighting capacity would leave a huge gap in UK combat capabilities.
• The UK is committed to NATO and required to provide forces. The question now is “With what?”
• The excellent but neglected Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior APCs would be hard to replace in combat roles. The existing structure of the UK military is already highly integrated and interoperative. What’s to replace them?
• Mobile forces in particular can’t work on theories alone. Can Britain make defence commitments based on very little hard information?
• The ability to move forces and conduct and direct operations requires a knowledge of combat capabilities, logistics, and technical knowledge.
None of these issues have been addressed directly by the government at this point.
Discussing the obvious, rather bleakly
The British army is famous for its parsimonious peacetime budgets and under-resourcing troops on the ground. It’s also famous for a level of baffling insularity at policy levels. Skeptics have pointed out that scrapping the armoured forces would also be a book-balancing exercise in extreme economic conditions.
The implication is that the Integrated Operating Concept is really a smokescreen for budget maneuvers, rather than military considerations. In the short term, this may well be true. In the impending economic environment of Brexit, funding anything may be a major issue. Depleted revenues, government debt, and expanding costs won’t help.
On the more military side of the equation, however:
• It’s true that the evolution of military forces is necessary. The Integrated Operating Concept is to a large degree stating the obvious. All of these issues will be parts of future defence.
• The British military has been on the receiving end of constant shrinkage since Thatcher. It’s now skeletal, in terms of capacity.
• This doctrine seems to overlook the contradictory building of two new aircraft carriers, conventional hardware of the most unambiguous kind. Where does the Royal Navy stand in this concept of future defence?
• The Royal Air Force role in this new approach also hasn’t been specified.
• Either you have combat capacity, or you don’t. Which is it? Or is the idea to set up the Integrated Operating Concept and invest in systems later? If so, what’s able to operate in the interim?
• The massive costs of new tech, research, development and training aren’t even mentioned. Why not?
Any student of the truly tortuous British military history wouldn’t be too surprised by the gutting of the army. It’s traditional British government practice. Since the Empire days, British troops have been saddled with whatever mediocre rubbish they were equipped, in whatever absurd military situations. The army is currently under target strength by about 10%.
(Originally, in Tudor times, England didn’t have a standing army as such. It was later grudgingly allowed to exist after the fall of the Parliamentary government. Reliable troops were required to manage the English public, rather than fight foreign enemies. The Coldstream Guards were one of the original units. The modern army eventually formed after the Napoleonic Wars, and then in somewhat “muted” condition compared to the navy.)
The sea and air capability, however, is much less amenable to governmental mucking about on any level. Britain remains an island, despite many requests; it needs a navy and air force for basic national defence. The navy has been insulted by budgets to a barely viable form of 77 active units of all ages. The RAF, equally blessed, has 832 operational aircraft of various vintages.
Into this utopian military paradise has now sailed the Integrated Operating Concept, with all press releases blazing away. The problem here is that the British military, although of undeniable quality, now lacks numerical depth. The current combat strengths would suffer severely from any degree of prolonged combat.
Is it seriously intended to scrap what combat capability there is, in the name of an unspecified future range of theoretical goals? It’s hard to tell. The assumption has to be that the British government won’t throw away the cream and keep the bottle, but that’s not clear, either.
What is abundantly clear is that the UK military is at a thankless and inexcusably uninformed crossroads. It’s uncertain of its immediate future, and no wiser about its subsequent future. Exactly what assets it will or won’t have simply haven’t been defined at all. It is a positively insulting environment for nearly 200,000 people in the services, to say nothing of the nation.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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