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Monday, 29 June 2020

A new world

Well, we didn't expect that to happen so quickly.

Let's just take a quick recap of the shifts in defence and security policy over the past few years. Reviews are now normally every five years; past reviews in 2010 and 2015 were typical dilettante Cameronian fudges; the future was supranational and international, UN good, NATO good, EU better. And we've ended up with a pair of carriers that were obsolete as soon as they rolled down the slipway, so vulnerable to a new generation of hypersonic missiles that they can't be let anywhere near a war zone. Possibly useful as a platform for fishing surveillance drones, though - anchored in the North Sea, bang in the middle of our EEZ, each housing a clutch of admirals. Unless we can persuade the EU Navy to buy one. Our Type 45's may be able to detect and shoot down a cricket ball travelling at the speed of sound, but that's not much use when the enemy are using missiles a lot faster than the speed of sound rather than fast cricket balls to sink our carriers.

Anyway, from 2017 Mark Sedwill was charged with conducting a run-up to the 2020 review, which needed to be broadened to include threats from State Actors. Tanks are out, deniable actions by unmarked troops are in. As Putin has shown in the Donbass, you can get away with it. And as the Salisbury poisonings and a score more GRU assassinations elsewhere have shown, even when they know it's you, what can they do, apart from ineffective sanctions and a handful of diplomatic expulsions? So long as Germany is dependent on Putin's gas, he has a get-out-of-jail-free card. China too has been a disruptor, using state cyber attacks on other nations' infrastructures as well as armies of hackers who infiltrate and disrupt social media. Iran's shipnapping in the gulf is open.

If Cameron was a dilettante, May was Queen of Chaos. She hadn't got a clue what she wanted, so long as she could keep it secret and keep the public, non-government experts and parliament away. Catastrophe May was a brainless ditherer, a dunderhead. On the basis that any plan was better than no plan, Sedwill acted in what he genuinely thought were the nation's best interests. He went to Washington to talk with those conducting Trump's review. He sent trusted civil servants to Brussels to tentatively commit the UK to EU defence plans. He invented the 'Fusion' strategy, allowing the UK to do everything at once with an Eton mess of defence, security, economic and other resources.

None of this made it through to what was scheduled to be the 2020 defence and security review. On taking office in 2019 Boris radically altered the terms of reference and downgraded Sedwill's role. Dominic Cummings had also long been a vocal critic of the UK's disastrous defence procurement regime. When Covid demonstrated that Whitehall's procurement systems couldn't even procure a few boxes of gowns and face masks, it was also an explicit admission that our mandarins couldn't be trusted with buying stuff like ships. Dom has written on his blog, bookmarked here, that utterly unfit Whitehall procurement "has continued to squander billions of pounds, enriching some of the worst corporate looters and corrupting public life via the revolving door of officials/lobbyists".

Champions for the MoD such as Michael Fallon and George Robertson have tried to not only hold the UK to our 2% of GDP commitment for defence but to increase this to 2.5% or even 3%. Defence interests - the admirals and generals - have done everything they can to ringfence 'their' 2% to tanks and ships and fast jets. Simply, their ideas are as redundant as the useless carriers we've just acquired.

The USMC has just junked all its tanks.

The decades to come will mean we must fight on the battlegrounds on which we are being attacked - green men, state assassins, cyber war. The ring-fencing that the men in medals want won't work. We need a mash-up of MoD, GCHQ, SIS and MI5, FCDO and the City. We need to throw into the pot the MoD's 2% of GDP, DfID's 0.7% and the billions of secret squirrel money. On the face of it, Sedwill's 'Fusion' idea was in the right direction - but the man had a 'reservation of mind' that meant interests other than the elected government's played a part in his delivery.

And Covid buggers everything. When GDP shrinks by 20%, 2% of that smaller pot will buy far fewer F35s or anti-cricket ball destroyers. Lord Frost will have exactly the right skill set, and will be able to put together exactly the right team to deal with that new reality. And my sincere hope is that Labour's front bench under Starmer can put a broad shoulder behind the UK's national defence and security strategy - after all, they may have to live with it from 2024.    


Dave_G said...

Clearly we need to feed all our financial resources in to the likes of the BBC, Alphabet, FANGs etc as it is only THEY that can control the initiative and get people to believe in everything we are being told and that remaining in the EU, voting Democrat and allowing the banks off Scott free is the way forward.

Salisbury is a good example to start with. Maybe 'Russia is bad'?

jim said...

I wonder what the 'men with medals' are thinking. I can't imagine Dominic will be all that amused to find the RAF keeps a string of polo ponies on the public tit. Not far to look for other boondoggles - for the chop.

Way back I spoke to a friend working on Star Wars. Do you think this will ever work? Of course not, but you don't have to believe to take their money. The real purpose was some hype - to shake up the Ruskies. Everyone in Defence is very cynical, from the politicians to the rivet pushers. Goes back to Samuel Pepys and beyond.

Complicated business defence, a bit like nine dimensional GO. Many many actors all with an agenda, shooting enemies way down the list. Sedwill and the Defence Chiefs have played this game many times. Dominic is new and the wrong sort and an amateur - expect some noise but no real change. A handy foxhole down which to send a yappy terrier - and hope he gets lost.

Span Ows said...

I don't think DC will be getting lost. If Boris can keep him he is going to do it.

He has Gove to help him too. Along with DC blog this is an interesting read of Gove's(transcript)

The carrier can be used as an offshore "asylum" shelter, in the SW corner of Bailey or NE Rockall.

Anonymous said...

Put the carriers end to end in the Estuary and you got an instant Boris airport!

Thud said...

Hypersonic missiles? after a new weapon arrives a credible defence does soon afterwards plus a carrier force can project its own offensive systems out to neutralise a threat before it arises, carriers still have a large roll in future operations. If Chinese etc missiles are so effective why are they spending huge amounts to build carriers of their own? its not as if they too would not have to face such weapons.

Raedwald said...

Span Ows - yes, thanks for posting that Ditchley lecture link. I read it yesterday and was most impressed - indeed the post I had floating in my mind for today was based on it, until news of Sedwill's resignation came along.

DJK said...

The USMC may be giving up their tanks and heavy guns, but the US Army are keeping theirs, and don't think that the USMC won't be getting lots of other, expensive toys to replace the tanks.

Bill Quango said...

The USMC is facing almost 10% cuts.
So it is ditching its armour components. And bridge building.

But also it’s cutting right across the board. Including the things it needs. Helicopters and assault ships artillery and the F-35 are in the front line of the cuts. That makes the lie that the USMC is only making cuts to be better focused on the Pacific.

Of course, with reduced spending, they will be more focused. Any institution can cut 10% of spending, after a decade of rising budgets, and barely notice the effect.
The problem comes, as it did with austerity, when the cuts happen year after year. Eventually, something useful has to go. And then something essential.

May was right to cut the police. There were thousand of off sick, desk bound, time serving, pension waiting officers, clogging up the system. The 10% cut forced the police to deal with them. Pay them off or sack them. They could no longer afford to ignore them. Could not afford to ignore the cost of unused police stations and vehicles. And so on.

But, flush with her success, May continued chopping long after it became apparent that it wasn’t just dead wood being axed any more.

Court services, were the same. Too long and too deep.

The USMC has always, always been the least well equipped of the US military.
Which is why they will manage.
This time.

Anonymous said...

Well, your problem might well not be anyone in the Civil Service but rather, Conservative Friends Of Russia, a front organisation set up by the then Russian Ambassador to the UK, and to whose garden parties one Carrie Symonds, inter alios, was a regular guest.

Span Ows said...

Oh no, anon has sniffed out another scandal, as it stinks let's call it the perfumo affair.

Anonymous said...

Raedwald said:

'The USMC has just junked all its tanks.'

The USMC is ditching heavy armour because the Mission has changed, ditto the Royal Marines who are also 'going back to sea', with an entire company onboard each carrier instead of one platoon. The role of the commando is back to the future, supporting SBS operations - similar to the Paras who have been successfully supporting SAS operations for some time now.


Raedwald said...

Thanks Steve - yes. There's a good article by a serving officer on the Wavell Room - a site I highly recommend

Anonymous said...

Thanks, a good read it is Raedwald. The carrier decision was political over strategic: Royal Navy wanted three but instead got two big ones. I've said before we should have gone for three and stayed below 50,000 tons. Nuclear powered. Another mistake is the new Ajax AFV's, over 500 on order. The lightest variant is 38 tonnes and none has a V-shaped hull. Go figure.


Domo said...

The thing with little green men is, they're f***ed when the panzers roll in
See Serbias "black hand" and Franz Ferdinand.

Serbia: you can't prove it was us
AH: We dont need to

They're only a threat if you lack the will or means to flatten them

Raedwald said...

Thud - to a point. From

"The second difference is one of cost. High-end anti-ship missiles themselves are extremely expensive, and the targeting systems and other infrastructure that they require are probably even more costly. However, it seems certain that such costs will still be far lower than the price of the traditional arbiters of sea control. This potentially places them within reach of countries that would otherwise have been unable to afford to challenge for command of the sea.

The growth of anti-ship missiles as a provider of Corbett’s security umbrella offers the prospect not merely of increased sea denial and A2/AD, but also of the growth of regional powers able to exercise meaningful command of the sea across broad swaths of the oceans that they border."

In other words, our own long-range land-based 5G anti-ship missiles can enable closing the entire Norway - UK gap, the UK - Iceland gap, the Channel and Western approaches and deny any movement in or out of the Baltic, all at a tiny fraction of the cost of a carrier group.

As Steve hinted, our own carriers are morphing into very big assault landing ships.

Thud said...

Raedwald, agreed, but like anti tank missiles, defence systems capable of countering the hypersonics will follow, tanks were once written off and now their anti missile defences are proving very effective even against the latest generation of Russian systems.

Elby the Beserk said...

Reagan knew the Soviets would try to match him blow for blow. As they tried to. And eventually that led to the collapse of the Soviet economy and the opening of the Iron Curtain. Star Wars was a deliberate attack not on the country but its economy. And it worked.