Thursday, 26 July 2012

90% of statistics are made up on the spot - or why there aren't that many senior officers out there...

The Telegraph reported on 23 July that despite there being massive cuts to the military, there remained a glut of senior officers (e.g. 1* and above) occupying jobs. According to the DT, based on DASA (the MOD statistics team) results, since 2000 there had been no loss of 4* posts, a growth of in 3* posts and a loss of only four 2* posts in the Army. Meanwhile at lower levels, both 1* and OF5s appeared to have a small growth in relative rank terms.

On the face of it this appears to be a story designed to ignite outrage, after all when 20,000 of our brave boys are being fired, isn’t it terrible that the top brass are feathering their nest, and creating jobs for their own boys? The reality though is more subtle and reflects wider changes in the system and way that the military is managed.

The first question Humphrey would have is simple – how reliable are the statistics? If you play around with the DASA website (  then you can discover all sorts of interesting stats, which help build up a picture of the manning situation. The first thing to note is the little disclaimer, cunningly omitted by the Daily Telegraph which points out that all figures are rounded to the nearest 10 – this may not sound like much, but when you consider that the figure is static for 4* officers, you realise that its misrepresenting how many 4*s are actually in the services.

According to the DT, in 2009, and 2012 there were 10 4*s in service. Humphrey has done some quick sums and worked out that the 4*s would be CDS, VCDS, 3x Service Chiefs, 3x CINC, and DSACEUR. This is actually only 9 posts – so already the DT is 10% out on its accuracy. If one looks ahead to 1 April next year, the figure will be even lower, as the CINCs will all have gone, and been replaced by 3* Officers, while rumour has it that VCDS is looking vulnerable, particularly as the 2PUS has been lost. So, potentially next year’s figure could only be six 4* officers (CDS, 3 x service chiefs, JFC, DSACEUR) but due to the methodology used, this would still show as 10 on the reporting totals.

So, the first lesson to take away is that these figures are not reliable, and that they can easily be manipulated to suit political ends.

The next thing to consider is the downgrading of posts leading to a growth in jobs. This may sound paradoxical, but as there is a pressure to downgrade roles, it could lead to a growth in numbers in lower rank levels. For instance, next year’s figures may show a small growth in the number o 3* Officers as the new Commands settle in, and deputies are stood up. Also, the new NATO command structure is working up, which may see the UK gain a new multi-starred officer at Northwood.

The Army for instance is pushing to downsize its 1* head of arms roles, such as the Royal Signals and Int Corps 1* posts, and instead downgrade them to OF5 posts. What this means then is that over time there will be a short term bulge as officers taking up these posts come into service, while other OF5 positions have not yet been eliminated from the plot. It will take a couple of years for the changes to armed forces manning to work through the system, so its likely that the statistics will give the impression of a military which is boosting its officer ranks, when the reality is that they are being cut.

These stats also don’t take into consideration issues such as temporary promotions to handle short term roles, such as the deployment of officers in acting up roles, or the assignment of personnel to overseas organisations. One reality is that many nations do not respect more junior officers, and even an experienced SO1 or OF5 may struggle to get doors open to senior national figures, or to have sufficient clout to able to do their job properly. They may get a local acting rank to ensure they can do the job properly while deployed, which will bolster statistics, but which doesn’t actually count as a permanent established post.

Changes in NATO are another good reason why numbers may vary – as the UK commitment to NATO has changed over the years, and posts occupied by UK personnel alter, the manning makeup varies. The UK has long tried to keep personnel in key posts within NATO in order to keep UK influence in certain areas. This has required the deployment of officers across a range of ranks in order to justify the hold on certain ‘plum’ posts at the most senior levels. If the UK didn’t contribute to some of the wider NATO OF5 and above roles, then it is likely that there would be less chance of us securing the DSACEUR and other posts which are seen as a vital national role. So, part of the reason for the relatively static number of senior posts is simple, until NATO significantly downsizes its HQ establishment, or until the UK changes its aspirations for NATO posts, there will be a requirement to provide a fairly substantial number of OF5 and above posts. This will continue to be an issue, and may even grow as alternate HQs such as the EU Military Staff grow in significance as the UK tries to secure its influence in these areas.

So, while it may seem that the senior officers are all in it for ‘jobs for the boys’ the reality is that over the last 15 years or so there has been a significant cull in UK senior officers posts, jobs that once had a 3 or 4* officer doing it are now shifting to the 1 or 2 * level. There seems to be a gentle downwards shift towards using 1 and 2* officers in most roles, although it will take some time for this to work through the system. As Humphrey has noted elsewhere, the RN is now shifting to having only one 1* role, when less than 20 years ago it had four, not including NATO posts.

A final thought, for all the complaints about how many senior officers posts exist in the military, the reality is that the combined total of all OF5 and above posts combined equate to less than 3% of defences manpower totals. The perception is that 1*s are everywhere, but the reality is that they are far less common than perhaps people think.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Fifty Shades of Gray? The future of the DE&S…

One announcement that slipped out under the ‘end of term’ radar last week in Parliament was the decision that the DE&S, which handles procurement and support for the MOD is likely to become a Government Owned, Commercially Operated organisation (GOCO).

This decision should not in itself come as a surprise to many. For some time rumours have circulated that the MOD was seeking to divest itself of the DE&S, and put procurement at arms length. This was in part seemingly driven by the review into defence procurement driven by Bernard Gray (the current Chief of Defence Materiel). While it will take some time for the work to be completed, it appears that in future all MOD procurement will be run by the private sector on behalf of the MOD.

This is not in itself bad news – one can look at the way in which SERCO has successfully taken on the requirements to deliver RN marine services from the old Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service (RMAS) as an example of where a good ‘GOCO’ can work well and deliver a positive effect.

Bernard Gray,with former SofS Liam Fox (Copyright MOD)

What does this all mean?

For many years the media have been advocating the privatisation of the DE&S, believing that the organisation at Abbey Wood is incompetent, unable to deliver and that an injection of private sector ethos and mentality is going to suddenly make things much better for equipment provision.

The truth is perhaps more complicated. Whoever takes on the role of running the DE&S for HMG is going to find themselves in a role which makes being head of security at G4S look like a sensible post right now. There will be an immense set of expectations from Ministers, the media and concerned members of the public that the new organisation will suddenly deliver far more effectively and efficiently, and that many of our perceived procurement woes will vanish.

The challenge is going to be doing this in the near term. Whoever takes over will inherit a workforce that is incredibly demoralised at present. Speaking to acquaintances from DE&S, one is left with the impression that many feel they are being blamed for the failings of other parts of Government. Some see the problems that procurement has as being rooted in the Planning Round culture in London – they are merely required to implement delays or seemingly incoherent decisions on the guidance and advice of other areas. They feel that they are about to lose their careers in order to protect others.

In the short term there is likely to be an outflow of staff as DE&S officials who don’t want to be part of the brave new world seek to get out – either to other MOD or Civil Service posts, or to the private sector, where salary packages for reasonably skilled staff seem far more generous than the MOD at present. Talent retention is likely to become the buzzword of the day – how does Bernard Gray and his team convince the staff at Abbey Wood and elsewhere to stay, and convince them that being stripped of their civil servant status doesn’t mean that they don’t have a career anymore. Getting through to vesting day is going to be a challenge as people seek to get out.

This could impact on the wider MOD in a couple of ways – firstly it will become harder to find good quality staff to put into high profile projects. For the last few years the main effort has been supporting operations in Afghanistan. This will remain a challenge until the withdrawal, but needs to be done with potentially less staff available – filling vacancies will become ever more difficult as fewer staff seek to move into an organisation which has no civil service future.

There will be a challenge to ensure that normal projects are pushed through as planned – it will require an incredible motivational effort given that there is no overtime, limited promotion prospects, and no real short term career prospects. Why make the effort for an organisation that has no future?

Finally managing to keep skills in service, both now and for the post GOCO future will be critical. There is always a shortage of good project managers and engineers. Many of those in the DE&S have stayed put partly because they like working for the civil service. Will they still feel the same about the new operator, or will they see this as the chance to go elsewhere. There is no guarantee that whoever takes over will actually have a workforce that is fit for purpose.

DES&S Abbey Wood - Soon to be privatised (taken from defence industry daily website)

The GOCO world is going to be challenging – This is probably going to be one of the most high profile defence ‘privatisations’ seen over the next few years. There will be immense expectations of delivery from the outset, and the pressure to succeed will be enormous.

While the media will have you believe that privatisation will bring about major changes to delivery, whoever takes on the DE&S will at first still have the same workforce. This will not change cultures overnight, and it may take some years for the private sector mentality to sink in and new practises and better ways of working to become more prevalent.

The new operator will need to restore staff morale, and work out whether they will continue to pay civil service wages, or offer wages commensurate to talent. The latter may increase skills, but will cost significantly more – there appears to be a significant cost difference between the public and private sector, particularly as the MOD makes no special payments for staff holding project management qualifications.

Over time retaining an understanding about defence will be critical. One of the challenges will be to prevent a situation emerging where a privatised DE&S no longer really ‘gets’ defence, and instead recruits anyone who can handle project management. There will need to be strident efforts made to ensure that the DE&S teams remain integrated into the wider defence community. Additionally there will probably need to be renewed emphasis on ensuring that the Requirements Teams who handle procurement have stronger training and better understanding of their role, to ensure that they are not handed a solution by the DE&S which does not fully meet MOD requirements. This may well require a wider culture shift beyond just DE&S and one which impacts on defence as a whole.

So it looks like interesting times ahead – there are many questions that need to be answered, and its not just a case of saying ‘privatise defence procurement and all will be well’. It will be a long term project, that is likely to take over a decade to do properly, and which will have major ramifications for the future shape of UK defence, and the equipment it operates. Done well, and it will retain promote and recruit high calibre staff who can bring projects into service better, faster and more cheaply than before. Done badly, and the implications for UK defence as a whole could be almost too worrying to contemplate.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Up Periscopes? The growth in global SSK aspirations

There have been a few recent snippets relating to naval developments recently that tie together nicely. At its heart are a number of rumours, announcements and policy developments relating to Submarine acquisition, and the wider strategic situation.

A new Pan-Asian Alliance?
First up are growing rumours that Australia may be seeking to buy into the Japanese SSK programme (known as the Soryu class). It seems that the Australian government has dispatched observers to look at the programme, although its not clear what the result of this would be.
Japan has long been constrained by its post-war constitution from exporting military hardware, and it was only relatively recently that the ban on exports was lifted. There have been no sales of Japanese SSKs overseas, and their design capability is optimised for supporting indigenous requirements.
The Australian replacement SSK programme is due to identify possible hull types in the near future – well informed sources in the Sidney Morning Herald claim that the design is likely to be either an enhanced German design (known as the Type 216), or an enlargement of the Collins class. In either case, Australia is in the market for up to 12 4000 tonne SSKs capable of conducting deep ocean patrols far from the home base. The Soryu class weighs in at over 4000 tonnes submerged displacement, making it a similar size to Australian requirements.
It seems unlikely that the Soryu class would be chosen as an intentional design – while the Japanese may be willing to share details and construction tips, it is hard to imagine that there would be series production of the design. Such a move would probably be politically contentious in both nations, and there may be deep seated reluctance in the Japanese military to expose some of their most highly capable technology to outside powers. Similarly, it’s hard to envisage there being significant Australian political support to outsource their submarine design or construction capability to Japan. It may well be that this story has leaked in order to apply some pressure to the two competitors to deliver the best value for money solution.
What this does mean though is that two of the major maritime powers in the region are now talking to each other about SSK operations using larger vessels. With both nations looking increasingly to take on a blue-water role, and operate far from home, it means that these exchanges could be the start of shared discussions on the challenges of operating a deployed submarine fleet.
Whatever decision is taken, as has been discussed previously, it remains highly unlikely that Australia would go down the road of operating a nuclear submarine fleet, although other nations are now thinking of this road.
Soryu Class SSK (Copyright

Iran – Going nuclear?
There have been growing reports recently that the Iranian Government is seeking to acquire its own nuclear submarine capability. This naturally has led to some concerns that somehow, from a starting base of zero experience in the design and manufacture of anything more complicated than a midget submarine, Iran will suddenly have something akin to the ASTUTE prowling beneath the waves of the Gulf.
Let’s be clear here, for all the talk and bluster of the Iranian regime, their ability to build a nuclear submarine remains close to nil. Submarine manufacture remains one of the single most complicated military capabilities that any nation state can possess. As the UK found to its cost in the 1990s, even a short delay in building submarines can lead to a critical loss of skills and experience, which places the entire capability in jeopardy.
A submarine is not just a boat that sinks, and pops back up again, in the manner of a Kellogg cornflake packet toy. It’s an incredibly complex system designed to operate in the harshest possible conditions, where a single failure can kill everyone on board in seconds. It has to have the ability to sink, to operate undetected for the duration of its patrol and come back up again on its terms and at a place of its choosing. Nuclear submarines are even more complex, adding the joy of running a nuclear reactor to the mix as well.
It is worth considering how few navies can operate submarines well, as opposed to possessing submarines that can occasionally submerge. Although on paper there has been something of a boon in recent years, with new operators like Iran, Malaysia, Singapore and the like getting into Submarine operations, there has not been a growth in national builders.
At present, genuine submarine design, and building (as opposed to kit production) remains concentrated in just 8 countries – China, France, Russia, UK, USA, along with Spain, Germany and Japan.
President Ahmaninejad boarding a midget submarine (Copyright Fars)
Other countries have previously demonstrated an ability to produce licence designs – often from Kit form, or mildly upgraded models, but compared to 20-30 years ago, there are far fewer nations doing this. In this latter category, one could include India, Pakistan, North Korea and a few other countries. At a push one could include Iran for its midget submarine programme, although it has yet to produce a genuine indigenous ‘proper’ submarine design.
So, while it may be fashionable to worry about fleets of Iranian SSNs cutting about the gulf, the reality is that Iran has yet to demonstrate it possesses a submarine design, let alone submarine construction capability. It is worth considering that Brazil has been trying to build a nuclear submarine for over 30 years, and thus far has not progressed beyond some fairly basic work. This is despite the Brazilian navy being a competent force, and not being subject to international sanctions.
To reach the stage where Iran has got a functional SSN capability (as opposed to a hull), they would need to be able to design a working hull, and propulsion system. This needs to be integrated with an almost certainly indigenously designed combat system and weapon systems (very few countries will export equipment at that level of capability to any nation, let alone one with Iran’s track record). It then needs to build this design flawlessly, and put the boat to sea. HMS ASTUTE has taken the RN the best part of 15 years to build from scratch, and even now she is not a fully operational taskable hull. This is from a navy which has previously built 26 other nuclear powered submarines.
When the Iranian SSN eventually puts to sea, it needs to be able to do so in a manner where it is quietened enough to operate while avoiding detection, and do so in a hugely constrained waterspace where both RN and USN SSNs operate regularly. The SSN needs to be able to operate in these waters with accurate charts (thus necessitating an expensive hydrography programme) and the ability to disappear at will. It is hard to see how an Iranian SSN putting to sea could do so without firstly deafening nearby submarine sonar operators, and also avoiding detection. In all this, there has not been any consideration of the issues of nuclear safety and ensuring that the reactor is properly maintained, repaired and run. As Humphrey has noted before, its not the cost of building an SSN that is so prohibitive, it’s the cost of acquiring the huge associated support infrastructure that breaks the wallet.
In reality then, any Iranian SSN project would be looking at the best part of decades before it was capable of putting to sea as a credible, working and realistic capability. It would need to do so against the backdrop of an inherently dysfunctional military, where the two branches (both regular armed forces and the IRGC) seem to fight each other as often as they fight their opponents. So, although the aspiration may be there, the likelihood of there being a home-grown SSN in the water before 2030 remains remote.
New Iranian mini submarines (Copyright Mehr via pkdefence forums)

The final nation which has hit the news as a potential future submarine operator is a little closer to home. The SNP has announced that its defence policy will see a future independent Scotland rely on a self-defence force of some 15,000 regular personnel and 5,000 reserves. Within this force mix will be frigates, Maritime Patrol Aircraft and a conventional submarine fleet.
Humphrey has written before about the challenges facing an independent Scotland. While any future SDF will inherit some equipment, it would not come equipped with diesel submarines, or trained crews at the start.
What the SNP appears to be advocating is the acquisition of an SSK capability from scratch, to meet an undefined threat. There are no submarine construction yards in Scotland, and it would take years, and a significant amount of funding to set one up. Therefore, any SSK acquisition would need to be funded through overseas purchases. This would mean Scottish funds being spent in French, German or Spanish yards to procure a small fleet of SSKs.
The cost of establishing this programme would be significant. Although an independent Faslane would provide a nuclear submarine berthing capability, it would not come with the various training schools and escape tanks required to qualify a crew. This would need to be built, or alternatively the SDF would need to pay the Royal Navy a lot of money for access to their facilities. At the same time there would be a need to grow a small cadre of SSK operators, as the RN hasn’t run diesel boats for roughly 20 years. Although some skills are similar, it would require the SDF to set up and run a specialist recruitment programme to get a tiny number of very trained personnel into service. Look at the South African Navy to see how they have struggled to maintain more than one working submarine, while the Australian Navy is struggling to keep its existing six hulls in full use.
The more interesting question is what would a Scottish SSK actually do? Fishery protection (as practised by Canadian Oberon class hulls) is one option, although it would seem cheaper to just build some OPVs. Otherwise it leaves Scotland with a small number of hulls which excel at going to places they shouldn’t be, and collecting intelligence, laying mines or threatening to sink ships. Great if you practise a fundamentally expeditionary type of warfare, or plan to participate in coalition operations. In the European context, it is hard to see where these vessels would be used. One possible use is as the ‘clockwork mouse’ trainer for the RN down at FOST, but this is a role that many nations seek to fill in return for access to training.
Ultimately the choice of equipment for an SDF relies on both political, military and industrial decisions. However, it is genuinely hard to see what a small budget pressed SDF would gain from possessing SSKs. They would eat into scarce resources, take a lot of personnel to operate and maintain, and would require vast investment in Scottish yards which don’t currently build submarines, or sending that money overseas.
 Implications for the Royal Navy
So, three separate stories, but all of which have a common strand. Namely that nations continue to see submarines as the means by which naval power and prestige is acquired. They are seen as an effective means of projecting power, and despite an era of budget cuts, continue to be at the top of many nations acquisition lists.
The RN spent the Cold War becoming one of the best practitioners of ASW in the world. It is clear that the next few years will not provide a respite from the need to procure and operate world class ASW capabilities as if our friends and allies are seeking to procure this material, then it’s a certainty that nations less amicable to our interests are as well.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

East of East of Suez - the UK commitment to the Asia Pacific Region

The article below was published in three parts on the Think Defence website. Humphrey wrote the article for Think Defence in support of their excellent summer of strategy season. Readers who are not familiar with TD are strongly recommended to pay it a visit, it provides excellent analysis on a wide range of military issues.
The purpose of the article is to function as the first in a series about the UKs current military commitments around the world. If all goes to plan, the follow up part will look at Africa, and in time other regions. It is designed to put across a strictly personal opinion about the level of UK engagement in this region, and seek to inform about why commitments are what they are.
The articles have been merged from three into one, and so appear ‘as is’ albeit minus the linking paragraphs.
East of East of Suez – the UK commitment to the Asia / Pacific Rim.
The Far East is an area which has long held a fascination for many in the UK – both as a tourist destination, a source of economic prosperity, an emerging powerhouse of influence and dynamism, and a location where over many years the MOD has been engaged in one form or another. The region conjures up images of UK forces fighting in the jungles and seas of the Pacific, of the fall of Singapore, of great national humiliation, and immense pride, in wars such as Korea in the 1950s. Even today the UK contribution in Malaysia and the ‘Confrontation’Campaign are seen as good examples of how to successfully handle low level insurgencies or military clashes.
The phrase ‘East of Suez’ seems to sum up a generational policy shift in the 1960s, when the UK began the process of recalling the legions, and withdrawing the tens of thousands of troops from the Asia Pacific region, and the drawing down of the great naval fortress of Singapore. In the public eye, the UK ceased to be a military power in the region in the 1970s, and to many our final withdrawal was completed in 1997 with the handover of Hong Kong. Yet, against all odds, and despite the expectations of many, the UK retains a small military presence in the region, and continues to enjoy strong relations with many of the nations present in this fascinating and immensely complex part of the world.
The purpose of this short series of articles is to review the UKs military commitments to the region, to gain an understanding of where UK defence interests lie, and review what it is that the UK is being expected to deliver, and my own personal view as to why it benefits the taxpayer to retain an influence in this region. It will be structured over three parts, and should be seen in the context of the wider TD series of Strategy Posts. It does not represent any official viewpoint, and should not be read or construed as being anything other than a personal interpretation of the current UK level of military commitment to the Asia Pacific region.
UK Commitments
For the purposes of this article, the Asia pacific region is deemed to be those nations east of the Indian Ocean, from Singapore through to the pacific coastlines of the Americas. It does not look at the roles played by UK forces in the Indian Ocean itself. Since 1997, the two main physical locations for UK forces in the region have been Brunei and Singapore.
Brunei: The role of the garrison in Brunei has been, at the request of his Majesty the Sultan of Brunei, to provide security for the country as a whole. The UK has had a military presence in Brunei since 1962, when troops landed to provide additional security. Today the garrison comprises some 900 personnel, predominantly drawn from the Ghurkhas’, for whom one battalion of light infantry is usually based in the Kingdom. Additionally, a small flight of helicopters and the UKs primary jungle warfare school (the other being in Belize, which has been downsized in the last year), as well as assorted other staff.
The Sultan meets the costs of the provision of the battalion, and also much of the infrastructure costs associated with their presence. The garrison arrangement is renewed on a five yearly basis between Brunei and the UK. At present the UK presence is scheduled to continue until at least 2015. An excellent summary of the UK defence commitment can be found at the FCO website, click here
Singapore: The UK presence in Singapore is not known to many in the MOD, let alone outside it. Until 1971 Singapore was home to a not inconsiderable number of UK warships and support vessels, using the dockyard facilities and support networks to provide the Far East Fleet. This organisation continued in a much reduced tri-national (Australia, New Zealand, UK) format until 1976, when the UK then withdrew its final contingents as economic problems forced a final withdrawal from the region.
Despite this, the UK retains to this day the ownership of a large fuel depot, and berthing wharves in Sembewang dockyard. Having been to the site a few years ago, the author can personally attest to its size, which provides berthing access for up to three escorts at a time, plus access to fuel and spare parts. Reportedly the fuel depot is the second largest in the Asia-Pacific region, and provides useful access for UK and allied warships to fuel. The FCO website has a good description of current UK military assets in Singapore, click here
These two facilities constitute the only permanent UK military presence in the region in terms of formed units or military installations. There is a wider set of individual exchange posts, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, where a plethora of UK personnel work as integrated members of these nations militaries.
Defence Attaches: One of the most significant UK military contributions in the region in terms of influence is the Defence Attaché network. Although many people are often sceptical of the value of defence attaches (a recent Daily Mail article referred to them as the so-called ‘Ferrero Roche’ network’), there is a strong argument to be made for the retention of these posts.
Attaches provide the UK with the opportunity to put military personnel into the region, to meet with and understand the military issues facing a country, and to get a better feel for strategic developments in a region. Many countries genuinely appreciate a UK Defence Attaché presence – it is seen as a sign that the UK takes their nation seriously from a military perspective, and this presence can often be invaluable in opening doors in an emergency.
In a region like the Far East, the Defence Attaché network represents one of the best means of the MOD to engage with local military forces and continue a relationship, particularly in nations which may rarely see a UK visit. As of November 2010, there were DA’s located in Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore. (Source). Additionally, since 1998, posts have closed in the Philippines and Thailand.
Some of these posts are of particular interest, and worthy of note. The two posts in Korea and Japan owe much to the Korean War for their continued existence. As one of the main participants in the war, the UK continues to have a place on the UN Military Armistice Commission, and the position of a 1* helps ensure the UK is engaged in this particular diplomatic issue. Additionally, the presence of military personnel in Japan, where the DA holds the position of UK Liaison Officer to the United Nations Command (Rear) helps ensure that the UK can invoke access to Japanese ports and airfields at short notice under UN resolutions dating back to the war – and as seen during the North Korean nuclear tests some years ago, where the UK sent a radiation sampling VC10 to the region, this is a useful access right to be able to invoke (and also a means of demonstrating continued interest and influence in the region). For further information on the role both sections play, see these links –
For the relatively small outlay of two defence sections, the UK is able to remain not only engaged in, and kept abreast of developments in the Korean peninsula, but also is able to safeguard access into the region. This helps the UK play a small, but influential role, and when coupled with the wider diplomatic presence in both Seoul and Pyongyang, means that the UK can help punch above its weight when it comes to influencing both these nations, and others involved in the delicate diplomatic situation in the region. While this may only be a small example, it does show that often a deft touch with the presence of a military attaché can have significantly wider ramifications for the UK as a whole.
Wider Exercises / Deployments: Although the UK has not had a major permanent military presence in the region for some time, until late in the last decade, regular task group deployments to the region ensured that there was a routine RN presence at least once per year, often in substantial numbers. The Ocean Wave 97 and Taurus 09 deployments are both good examples of the UK deploying substantial forces into the region, using enablers such as amphibious assault capabilities, and also wider surface ship capabilities, to visit a range of nations, conduct exercises under the auspices of regional alliances (such as the Five Power Defence Arrangement), and generally show the UK flag in an area which rarely sees a substantial UK military presence.
The combination of a smaller RN and a busyoperational tasking schedule means that deployments such as these have been less frequent for some time. Although there has been a limited RN surface presence – such as HMS RICHMOND in 2011, the reality is that for the time being, there is likely to be only a limited engagement in the area. The RN is very busy at present, and with a smaller escort fleet and reduced amphibious capability, all of which are in demand for real world operations, it is likely that future deployments to the region will see physically fewer, but materially vastly more capable, vessels operating there. Sadly the days of 10 – 15 vessel deployments such as OCEAN WAVE 97 are likely to have gone forever.
The RAF is also unlikely to see significant non-operational deployments into the region for the time being. The RAF operational fleet remains committed for operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and for as long as support to operations in Afghanistan remains the Defence Main Effort, then this is the priority for resources. That said, it is likely that exercises or small deployments, for instance to showcase Typhoon, will continue. As ever, it is important to remember that numbers of aircraft does not directly equate to capability, as both Typhoon and Tornado are immensely capable aircraft.
The Army is the service least likely to deploy in any substantial numbers to the region, although this is in keeping with the wider reality that since the 1960s and the end of Confrontation, the Far East region was far more an RN / RAF operational environment than an Army one. At the same time, the Army has the largest laydown of personnel of any UK service in the region, through the Brunei garrison.
Therefore, at any one time the UK military presence in the Asia Pacific region is just under 1000 permanently based military personnel, including Singapore, Brunei and the Defence Attache network. There are reasonably regular visits by RAF aircraft, and RN vessels, and although vastly smaller than the 1960s, there still remains a relatively substantial UK military presence to the East of East of Suez.
Having considered what the current UK military capabilities and commitments are in the region, the article will now consider what possible challenges and threats exist in the region. This will also focus on the role of the FPDA, and wider UK engagement.
Military Alliances: Given the reduced UK military commitment to the region, the main mechanism for justifying a UK physical presence now should be seen through the auspices of the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA). This loose alliance was initially brought together in the aftermath of the 1971 UK withdrawal from the region, transferring responsibility for security – particularly for Malaysia and Singapore from a resurgent Indonesia onto the UK, and also Australia & New Zealand.
As an alliance, the FPDA is now over 40 years old, and has managed to remain an active and valuable grouping of nations. It works well on two levels – from the UK perspective it has served as a rationale for continued engagement in the region beyond the end of Hong Kong, and the maintenance of the Brunei Garrison. The other nations have benefited as it has kept the UK engaged physically in the region to provide high end military capability – in previous years this was arguably a higher priority than it is now, particularly as nations such as Malaysia and Singapore have developed capable military forces capable of deterring aggression. However, there is arguably still value to be had in maintaining a relationship which ties in a permanent member of the UN Security Council to the region, and one which can still deploy sufficient military capability in the area if required, particularly including assets which may not be readily held by some of the other nations – such as helicopter carriers, tankers, Air to Air Refuelling, and other high end military hardware.
FPDA is still a valuable arrangement – it provides a rationale for the UK to be in the region, it provides reassurance to nations that the UK is still interested in the region, and perhaps most crucially, it provides no legal obligation other than to consult – no nation is committed to military action against another as part of this treaty. A useful primer on the UK engagement with FPDA can be seen at the following website –
From the UKs view, the cost of maintaining FPDA membership is normally relatively small – a smattering of staff officers deployed in the integrated air defence system HQ in Malaysia and the deployment of Staff or HQ elements to exercises when appropriate. However, the challenge for the UK is to continue to deploy sufficient assets to show that it takes the relationship seriously –which is not always easy in the resource constrained, and operationally busy world of the MOD. Some could argue that the UK is going to have to strike a real balance over the next few years and show that it remains committed to the FPDA through more than just words; otherwise the UK relevance to the agreement could become questionable.
One crucial point to note is that there is a clear value associated in many countries in the region with being able to operate with high end, high capability platforms such as the UK Type 45 class. One reason why the UK is able to enjoy strong relationships is its ability to deploy advanced military hardware, much of which often sets the stage for similar procurement by other nations. Many countries value the opportunity to train with the UK and get exposure to working with military capabilities that they would not otherwise encounter (e.g. carriers, SSNs, complex amphibious forces, ISTAR etc). There is a value associated with this that is not the same as with operating a low end OPV or similar (as seen by some European nations which retain a permanent presence in the area). While it is always tempting to see suggestions of putting low level capability into Singapore (for instance an OPV or something similar), the author personally feels it would arguably have less effect than an occasional deployment of a high end capability such as Type 45 on an irregular basis.
What this means is that the role of the UK military in the region feels less to do with actual combat or military operations as it is to do with capacity building through access gained by deploying high capability platforms to the region. This in turn provides leverage to support UK influence in a manner which paradoxically may not be achieved were the UK to try and maintain a small low level maritime or other presence in the area
What is the Threat?
Having reviewed the presence and potential wider UK commitments to the region, it is now appropriate to begin to consider the threat, and wider policy drivers that justify this current force level, and also the UK goals in the area.
At its most simple, a fairly generic sweeping statement could be made to say that there is no current military or existential threat to the UK from any nation in the region. A bold statement, but in reality, an examination of the military powers in the area does not show any one nation which poses a direct military threat to the UK at present.
Similarly, it is hard to see any nation in the region posing a direct military or existential threat to our partners and allies within the area in the scope of a conflict into which the UK could become embroiled. This is not to say that there are not territorial disputes in the area, for there indisputably are – for instance the situation off the Spratly Islands is an incredibly complicated territorial dispute, however, it is highly unlikely that the UK would find itself directly sucked into any of them as part of a wider conflict. It is this author’s strictly personal opinion that the Asia Pacific region does not pose any direct military threat to the UK in any conventional sense.
In this era of maritime dependence, we as a nation are reliant on many of our resources, imports and goods being shipped in from around the world. As a nation there are huge economic interests in the Asia Pacific market– a cursory glance at the UKTI website for the area shows a hugely interdependent region where the UK has vast business and financial interests at stake –
But do these large business interests necessarily equate to military interests though? The argument could be made that the UK has a need to protect its interests in the region, but equally the sort of threat that is posed to the UKs interests would appear to be from more indirect challenges, such as piracy, economic instability, and other non-traditional threats, rather than the likelihood of another nation directly taking over UK interests.
The challenge therefore in the region is far more complex than that of just a straightforward preparation for military conflict with a hypothetical power. The region has a hugely complex and intertwined series of non-traditional security challenges, including piracy, terrorism, organised crime (particularly drugs), energy security, managing the challenge of climate change and so on. While the military do have a role to play in some areas of this, it could be argued that there is little that can easily be dealt with through a large scale conventional military presence. To that end, this author would suggest that there is no direct threat in the region that warrants or necessitates a significantly larger military presence than that which already exists.
The UK’s military interests in the region would therefore seem to stem more from a desire for wider stability to protect its investments, and capacity building – for instance working more closely on counter terrorism issues, or providing support to tackling piracy, as well as enhanced training, as part of efforts to increase stability, and to encourage other nations to play a wider role on the world stage. For instance, the FPDA serves as an excellent model of a regional security mechanism, where although the original threat has long since changed, the organisation provides an excellent framework for training and security co-operation. One example of this is with Indonesia, where the UK is now actively re-engaging with the Indonesian military, and seeking to build closer links, and for whom participation in multi-national exercises could be of real value.
One area where capacity building may occur is not actually in the region itself, but is being seen in the operations off the coast of Somalia, where a large number of military vessels from the Far Eastern nations, including Korea and China, are engaged in counter piracy operations. This area of work is a superb means of building low level contacts between navies who may have rarely worked together before. This author would argue that while the UK may not have a significant military presence in the Far East, the contacts and joint work being conducted off the coast of Africa probably represent a more valuable training opportunity than multiple training deployments by the RN into the region
In the final part of this article, we will focus on the future level of UK engagement in the region, and what form this could take.
What level of engagement is likely to occur in the near future?
So far this article has focused on the level of UK interest in the region, which it is clear is an area in which HM Government has very significant political and economic interests, but which is not a region that presents a direct military threat to the UK. A good primer on the wider UK level of interest in the region can be seen in the transcript of a speech by the UK Foreign Secretary (William Hague), made in April 2012, which summarises the overall level of engagement by the UK in this region. A copy of the speech can be found HERE.
In terms of the level of future presence and engagement, this author would suggest that the current pattern of activity would seem to be about right – there is a regular flow of staff talks, and international discussions on all manner of issues between the MOD, wider Govt and other nations with whom the UK can work. These are in many ways the main forum for co-operation – by keeping dialogue alive, even at a relatively infrequent or low level, channels of communication are maintained, and make it easier to ramp up relationships in due course, when resources and international interests permit.
A good example of where defence relationships are likely to improve through lower level talks, and potentially exchanges of information in future, is the recent UK/Japan defence co-operation memorandum, signed in April 2012 (link HERE).
Similarly, the current exercise programme, primarily focused on occasional deployments of RN vessels, backed up by the odd wider deployment of an RAF fighter element to support exercises with the FPDA, seems to be a roughly appropriate level of engagement.
While it is fun to consider the world of ‘what ifs’ the reality is that HM Govt has a limited amount of funds to spend, and Defence is even more limited. With no genuinely credible threat to our interests in the region, it is hard to see the justification for a massive upsizing of purely military resources out there. Instead, this is an area where ‘soft power’ should be used to maximum effect to ensure that UK interests are protected.
This authors strictly personal predictions for the next few years (based on nothing more than a spot of thinking) would be though:
  • The UK defence footprint in the region will remain relatively static, albeit with the occasional opening or closing of a Defence section.

  • The UK will continue to see FPDA as the main focus of military engagement, and deployments to the region will be designed to coincide with major exercises.
  • Task Group deployments and solo escort deployments will occur, but not necessarily on as frequent a basis as has previously occurred. Future deployments are likely to showcase specific high end capabilities for training rather than perhaps a fully balanced task force.
  • The UK will continue to engage in staff talks and international engagement with most countries in the region, but this will not necessarily translate into any form of meaningful and substantive military engagement in the region.
  • Continued operations against piracy will see engagement with some nations that the UK would not normally operate with (for instance Korea and China), and valuable multi-national operational experience will be gained in this manner, even if there are limited exercises in the region itself.
The reality is that in an age where an overstretched defence budget has to cope with many demands, the ability of the forces to sustain a commitment to a region with negligible threats is limited. Although it is currently unlikely that there would be a permanent withdrawal of UK assets from the region, it will almost certainly remain an area where the UK will seek to influence and engage by means other than the military in nature.
The Far East is the region that most ‘internet fantasy fleet’ discussions get most excited about when talking on ideal future structures of the RN, or how they’d use the existing network of relationships and alliances to put UK troops in the area on a permanent basis.
The reality is that the UK doesn’t need this sort of permanent presence – the threat to justify it doesn’t exist, and the costs associated with permanently basing a large proportion of the armed forces in the region simply can’t be justified by the level of concerns associated with the area.
The current situation, where a primarily diplomatic network, merged with some small exercises and ship visits, works to remind nations of the UK interest, but then exercises, training or co-operation on operations occurs elsewhere, seems to work well and provides for an appropriate level of engagement.
It remains highly unlikely on current international trends that there would be a major shift in UK presence or posture within the region within the next 2-3 years. Therefore, this author would suggest that the current UK military presence in the Far East is entirely appropriate, and in line with the nature of the challenges posed by a vastly complex region.
Original Source Links

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Reasons to be Positive – Part Three – The Purple Environment

Having previously looked at the less commonly cited reasons why the RN has a positive future, despite best efforts of naysayers to proclaim it doomed, its time to continue with a look at the purple (or Joint) environment.

To many the perception of the purple environment is summed up by the comment made by a frustrated officer, who said ‘The guys in green think Joint is spelt A-R-M-Y’. There is a natural concern from some that working with other services results in a dilution of the ethos of a single service mentality. In fact, this author would argue that not only has working joint been a success for the RN (broadly speaking), but that it has made a crucial operational difference.

Humphrey’s definition of ‘Jointery’ is simple – it means ‘the ability of the three services to work together in mixed postings or units to achieve a common output’. At its most simple is the idea of putting personnel from the services together, making them work together and then trying to make efficiencies through savings. Along the way it builds a common understanding of how to approach matters, and more critically an understanding of how approaches differ – particularly notable in the debate over how to operate aircraft from carriers. The end result should be three services which operate with less friction, and with greater efficiency.

The Canadians are the best example of full on jointery, where in 1967, all three services unified under one banner (Canadian Forces), and promptly formed seven new commands (cynics would argue change is never opposed by seniors when it palpably improves their promotion prospects!). Widely seen now as a lesson in how not to do jointery – the wearing of greens at sea and the use of Army ranks on naval ships in the 1980s were reportedly a disaster for morale. Today the CF has once again all but merged into three separate parts, with each service regaining its distinct identity. Elements of jointery live on though – reportedly all new recruits do (or at least they did) a common joint training, designed to turn a civilian into a soldier, prior to becoming a service specific individual.

Why so positive?

Humphrey is a strong believer that jointery is inherently good for the Royal Navy. Over the least 15 years or so, the following lessons would suggest that jointery has helped shape the RN, and set it up for a more positive future.

Individual Training: While there is unlikely to be a move towards joint training across all three services (although such a paper has almost inevitably been staffed, and filed next to the ‘disband Red Arrows, privatise the Guards, refit HMS VICTORY for sea duties’ papers held in readiness for defence reviews), there is an increasing ‘purple ethos’ in basic training.

If one looks at the training syllabus for both BRNC and HMS RALEIGH, then its clear significant changes have been made. Today’s new entrants undertake a significantly tougher military training course than before – whereas in previous years new entrants were held until they passed RNFT, now they have two attempts to pass, or they are discharged. It feels like a programme of mental robustness is being reintroduced, perhaps to counter some of the more public humiliation of the CORNWALL affair. Today’s junior sailor or officer will be exposed to much tougher ‘military’ training early on. Their training emphasises the importance of using rifles, and basic infantry training. They wear combat clothing and are taught to be war fighters first – a major difference from a few years back, where the sight of a rifle bearing matelot was enough to cause even hardened Royal Marines to retreat to shelter. The RN is taking the joint ethos to heart, and training its personnel to demonstrate basic military toughness. This will in time produce a more robust cadre of individuals who can easily be cross posted to other services and postings – improving employability at all ranks, and helping to fill pinch points on operational plots.

The RN uses joint work to good effect – if you cast an eye across Defence, then there is a wide range of training schools and environments where two or three schools have been merged into one. A good example is the Defence Diving School, at Horsea Island. This school merges the training of both RN divers and Army divers, who train in different environments. By running a single school, with alternating Service command, the MOD makes significant cost savings compared to running two separate establishments and associated manpower bills. It enables funding to be provided to run one high quality school, and pool instructors in one location, enabling better use of resources and training time.

From an operational perspective it means that although both Services have different outputs, there is much greater commonality of training, and it has made it much easier for the RN to provide search divers for operations in Afghanistan (no that isn’t a typo!), and help alleviate the burden on the Army – thus increasing operational experience, relieving pressure on overstretched troops, and possibly improving retention. It means that the RN is able to get a better return on its investment of public money, and achieve more with less. Humphrey is a firm believer in the adage that the RN is about sending warships to sea, and not investing money in property management.

There are plenty of examples of this occurring across all three services – look at things such as the establishment of tri-service defence colleges, such as Cosford for engineering, HMS SULTAN for some training and Chicksands for Intelligence. The reality is that by pooling resources, over the last few years, the RN and the other Services have been able to secure funding to update old facilities, and bring in good quality new training estate to meet future needs. It’s always impressive to go somewhere like Chicksands or elsewhere and see just how much investment has gone into the sites, and how good the training is now. Arguably, without embracing the advantages of jointery, much of this would not have occurred.

JSCSC Shrivenham - the home of 'purple' staff training (Copyright MOD)

Collective Training & Operational Effect

One often forgotten reason why the UK is able to a disproportionately large effect is due to the fact that the armed forces exercise jointly together. This may sound obvious, but it is surprising how few nations do actually undertake this sort of basic training. For the RN, exercises such as Joint Warrior are a fixed feature, enabling the three services to work together to establish joint operating procedures, learn to speak the same language and understand the constraints on operating conditions.

It makes a real difference knowing the environment in which you are going to fight. If you embark aircraft, you bring a substantial tail of personnel, spares, supporting infrastructure and the like. Joint exercises enable the RN to find out what works, and what doesn’t work. It enables them to find out whether stores fit in their assigned racking, and whether a carrier or LPD carries sufficient lubricants, oils and all the other utterly unglamorous, but vitally essential kit required to keep aircraft flying.

One notably unsung success from Libya was not that the RN embarked Apache on HMS OCEAN, but that the Army embarked and successfully operated Apache from HMS OCEAN. A huge amount of work goes into making this sort of thing happen, and it isn’t something that can just be done. When one considers the amount of work that goes into making an AH detachment successfully work from an LPH or CVS, you realise just how many things have the potential to go wrong.

A key reason for the RN to be positive about its future is that it has the ability to work with the other services to iron out the bugs, to build the relationships, and to work out what needs to be done to embark and conduct operations. Very few nations can do this – although some pay lip service to the concept of joint planning, in reality beyond a couple of NATO powers, it is hard to think of many nations that can genuinely ‘work jointly for effect’.

Apaches Operating from HMS OCEAN (copyright MOD)

Joint Operations

One good reason to justify a positive future is that despite most of the recent operations being in countries with limited access, or no access, to the sea, the RN has been able to demonstrate a convincing case for its ability to operate in these environments.

It’s an often forgotten fact that the Naval Service routinely makes up 10%, and often as high as 60% of the forces on the ground in Afghanistan. The commitment of air squadrons, elements of the Royal Marines and also individual service members in key roles has demonstrated that Naval Service personnel and assets are capable of playing a major role in UK operations.

Indeed it could be argued that the Naval Service has, if anything, gone too far in focusing on the littoral and land based operations in recent years. There has been a natural desire by many members of the Service to do an operational tour in Afghanistan or Iraq – a chance to ‘do the job for real’ and the appeal of a medal. There is a growing number of individuals, both regular and reserve (including the author) who hold the OSM for TELIC and HERRICK. The irony is that the RN has been busier than ever providing people for operations in an environment about as far removed from the sea as you can get.

For the Navy there is the danger that this stalls career paths for younger officers and ratings, and encourages them to think in a land based littoral mindset and not a maritime based mindset at an early part of their career. The appeal of doing a HOD job onboard ship is perhaps less than working ashore with 3 Cdo Bde doing ‘punchy operations’. In the years to come the RN is going to have to work out how to handle the Officer Corps, particularly in the FAA and RM who have spent years on land based operations, and not operating in their natural maritime environment. This will influence thinking for 20-30 years as they progress through the system.

The author has a long held theory that the Navy of today is shaped by the influences of Admirals when they were young officers. Today’s Navy in many ways reflects the natural desire of officers to return to global operations, big deck carrier operations and the use of SSNs. What will the Navy of 30 years time look like? Arguably with a current Officer Corps which has grown up on land based deployments, or operating MCMVs out of ports in Bahrain or Libya, and where the roles have been training, influencing and not necessarily ‘steely grey eyed messenger of death in a North Atlantic Gale’ jobs, will this influence their thinking on the evolution of the Naval Service. There will be a challenge to maintain a maritime based ‘naval’ ethos and culture – it is already noticeable that many junior officers possess more sets of CS95s than they do of No4 uniform!

One positive is that the RN has positioned itself well as an organisation able to contribute jointly to wider operations – and continue to meet its standing commitments. It has shown itself to be able to react to changing operational pressures, and focus its resources in new and unforeseen areas – such as using Sea King AEW in Iraq and Afghanistan in an ISTAR role.
Seaking Mk4 in Afghanistan (Copyright MOD)

There is a generation of officers out there who get the Army and RAF in a manner previously unforeseen – they have worked together, planned together, conducted operations together and dodged rockets together. This works to the RNs advantage as it means that a convincing case can be made for CDS and other future senior officers to be drawn from the Naval Service. It is arguable that the last 10 years of constant operations have helped make the RN ever more relevant to resourcing and requirements, even if the bulk of the work has been done on land.

So, this author is cautiously optimistic that the ‘purple revolution’ has been good for the RN. It has freed up resources for new training and investment. It has developed the ability to work jointly to achieve effect on operations, and it has helped develop a new generation of Officers who understand the littoral in the most literal sense of the word.

A final thought. When trying to define joint, it is important to understand the differences in culture and linguistics in the three services. This is most noticeable by the phrase ‘to secure a building’.

The Army storms a building using copious amounts of high explosive to secure it.

The RN locks all the doors and checks the windows are closed to secure it.

The RAF takes out a 35 year property lease to secure it…