More defence thoughts

Whilst many of you have written in support of withdrawing our army from Germany, some have expressed the conventional objections that we need to use the housing in Germany, and we need the tank training that the German facilities permit. These responses ignore the most important point that I was arguing – we should give up our commitment to helping police or enforce the borders of European continental states, which has caused us so much grief in the past. Surely it is time to leave this to the continental countries themselves, and the UN and NATO led by the USA? Of our four main military tasks, (European,maritime,expeditionary,home defence) this would seem to be the obvious one to remove.

This would allow us in due course once our forces are out of Afghanistan and current soldiers have completed their full contracts, to have a smaller army suited to our current needs. It should also allow us to improve the forces housing position. I have written before on how we could encourage and support soldiers in buying homes of their own whilst in the army, so we do not make them homeless when they retire at a relatively early age from the service. Soldiers should have a UK home base for their families, just as sailors do.

Coming out of Germany would stop the costs in Euros we are incurring, and put that money into circulation into the Uk economy. We would be spared the costs and be able to release the cash from facilities in Germany which the UK rents and owns. There is land and opportunity to train with tanks in the UK as well.

The UK does need to provide the manpower and the military equipment for its maritime and expeditionary roles. Helping police the world’s sea lanes is important to a maritime power so dependent on overseas trade and investment as we are. The naval and air force resources could also be used in home island defence if ever need arose. The expeditionary capability – which has been used too much in recent years – requires good joint working by all three services. There needs to be a well equippped and trained army to move into trouble spots quickly. There needs to be naval and air support, and good heavy lift capability for a speedy transfer.

Any serious naval power needs aircraft carriers to be part of its fleets to provide air cover. Our current policy of ordering two large ones leaves us limited in what we can do, especially if there has to be a lot of down time for refitting and maintenance. Getting the right balance between naval and air power will be crucial to success in the future. Defence of the home islands should always be the overriding priority. That requires good air cover to prevent or limit aerial attack, and good naval and air cover on the seas around our shores to prevent seaborne invasion. More of the capabiliy can be provided by drones and other remotely controlled devices, to lower the risks to manpower, and to cut the costs of some of the machinery needed. Procurement of weaponry and transport needs to be sharpened up so we buy more with less. The Uk ends up redesigning the wheel at great cost on too many programmes.


  1. Dan
    August 10, 2010

    Thanks for coming back to the issue. If we plan to be a significant land power on the continent then having a significant base on the continent makes sense but the right question is now why should we be trying to be a land power on the continent. Once you have accepted that the primary responsibility of policing the Western Balkans if it is required are the NATO states nearest to start with.

    The planning assumption is already presumably that there will not be a state to state conflict between NATO members and if the idea is defence against a land power against the NATO Borders then you are talking about a war with Russia and if that is seen as a high probability then ALL NATO members should be spending significantly more on defence.

    So bring the troops home from Germany put the heavy armour into long term storage and reduce the size of the land army. We do not need significant space to train as we get out of the business high end state to state land war.

    August 10, 2010

    "Procurement of weaponry and transport needs to be sharpened up so we buy more with less. The Uk ends up redesigning the wheel at great cost on too many programmes".

    Douglas Carswell has been vociferous and constructive on this issue and his contributions are well worth reading.
    The MOD's lamentable record on helicopter procurement is one such example. We could have bought Black Hawks off the shelf for approx £8m each but decided again to ‘reinvent the wheel’ for approx £27m a pop which caused our troops to go without for years with tragic consequences.
    I can't recall that any Whitehall person or committee was ever brought to book over the matter which in itself would be a positive step forward.

    1. Alan Jutson
      August 10, 2010

      Essex Girls

      Agreed Douglas has raised the subject of wasteful defence/arms procurement many times before, but few other MPs (JR excepted) seem to be aware or at least vocal on the subject, probably because we are still trying to be all things to all Nations/people and deluding ourselves at the same time.

      We need a radical rethink about what we actually want our forces to be, and do, Only then can we have a proper equipment review to match equipment with tasks required/needed.

    2. 13th spitfire
      August 10, 2010

      Douglas Carswell's remarks are indeed poignant but he does not know anything about military procurement which is the problem with what he is saying.

      The price of the Black Hawk is indeed £8m but that does not mean that we are actually going to pay £8m.

      In February the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States of 60 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, technical and other related logistics support.

      The estimated cost is $3.1 billion.

      I shall do the maths for you:

      60 x 8 = £480m – even with exchange rates you are nowhere near the $3.1bn asking price.

      So you see you cannot just assume that because Mr. Carswell says something that automatically makes it true simply because there are so many surrounding costs which simply are not accounted for in the £8m price tag. Such as:

      -Additional Weapon systems
      -Uk integration


      The Lynx for £27 already comes with a lot of the additional parts that the Black Hawk does not. But it might still be cheaper to buy the Black Hawk – I do not know but it sure as hell does not cost $8m for one Black Hawk, that is a complete and utter distortion of the facts.

      1. Simon
        August 10, 2010

        Thank you for pointing out the hidden costs and getting us closer to the total cost of ownership .

        3.1 billion USD for 60 BlackHawks pans out at 33million GBP each !

        The makers of the Lynx , Agusta Westland , are 50% owned by British engineering concern GKN and surely employ more people in the UK than the makers of the BlackHawk ; Sikorsky .

        Given the diverse nature of GKN their network of suppliers must run into tens of thousands of jobs in the UK .

        Even if the price of the Lynx was higher , it is probably cheaper in the long run to pay a little bit more now to keep the homegrown option open .

        1. Blank Xavier
          August 11, 2010

          The only concern I have when purchasing military equipment is whether or not it will perform in combat; win and help save soldiers lives. I do not think of buying poor equipment which will fail and get our forces killed, for the sake of *jobs*.

          If that bloke is out there being shot at and his life is on the line, do you want to say to him – ah yes, it's a crap helicopter, but we wanted to save some jobs.

      2. Kevin Peat
        August 10, 2010

        Add into your argument the benefits of keeping skills and development within these shores, as well as unemployment costs down.

        That said, the highest priority should be to support our frontline troops as effectively as possible.

        I find it unbelievable that they are being kept in Afghanistan when it is as good as admitted that the war is lost.

  3. Paul Round
    August 10, 2010

    In general, I support the views expressed by John Redwood, Dan and the Essex Girls.Some opnions aired by previous commentators have been hopelessly partisan, favouring their pet service at the expense of the other two.Most of our expeditionary history from 1815 on has been little short of disastrous for this country and frequently the capability has been misused, particularly in recent years.Procurement history likewise.A combination of political short termism and appalling mismanagement by the MOD have wasted lives and money in abundance.In Defence terms, we need to catch our breath for a term of years.Switch to sensible and pragmatic procurement,scrap grandiose purchases, withdraw from Germany, which is a total white elephant and concentrate on our interests: home defence and maritime protection.

    1. Blank Xavier
      August 11, 2010

      I take the view the MOD should be disbanded.

      Give the defense budget directly to the Chiefs of Staff. The Americans did that certainly up to and during WW2 (I don't know if they still do).

  4. Nick Drew
    August 10, 2010

    There is land and opportunity to train with tanks in the UK as well

    up to a point: but even better, to get access to the superior German tank ranges we could periodically practice returning to Germany in force, by way of rehearsing a NATO reinforcement obligation

    we have long exercised in Canada for the type of wide-ranging battlefield training which is difficult in the UK.

  5. Lola
    August 10, 2010

    The system won't let me post my moderately long comment on defence. I have emailed it to you.

  6. backofanenvelope
    August 10, 2010

    You say Mr Redwood:

    "The UK does need to provide the manpower and the military equipment for its maritime and expeditionary roles"

    What expeditionary roles? I believe that after we have extricated ourselves from Afghanistan the electorate would be against any repeats. So after 2015 we can sharply reduce those forces designed for policing bits of the globe.

    1. Blank Xavier
      August 11, 2010

      What happens if something unexpected crops up and your population *demands* you send forces?

      Actually, the basic problem here is that those who pay for the forces (taxpayers) are not those who decide what is done with those forces.

      1. backofanenvelope
        August 12, 2010

        You treat them as grown ups and tell them we can't do it.

  7. forthurst
    August 10, 2010

    An issue on procurement is whether the MOD exists solely to satisfy the requirements of our armed forces or additionally to promote defence manufacturers. One of our major problems is that defence manufacture in this country is practically the last significant repository of engineering expertise, the rest either having been destroyed by Trotskyites working towards the 'Revolution' or simply having never taken off because of the bizarrely inappropriate foci of education in this country.

    I have the impression the MOD has far too much manpower. A detailed examination of what they do and why they do it might be appropriate. Are they performing or duplicating the legitimate functons of naval architects and engineers? Are they usurping the roles of quartermasters within the armed forces? Might some procurements be faster and cheeper if the MOD were not involved? Is there a halfway house between servicemen purchasing their own supplementary kit and the MOD not taking any manifest action at all apart from providing 'answers' as to why they are very busy doing nothing?

    The main thrust in shaping our armed forces should be in anticipating the consequences of technological change. WWII started with the demise of the battleship and ended with a final chapter in which guided missiles (kamikasi) became a threat to aircraft carriers. Now both the Russians and Chinese have in train anti-aircraft carrier missile systems which would likely be acquired in time by third parties, has not the aircraft carrier become too juicy a target to be able to survive new missile developement?

    1. Simon
      August 11, 2010

      For most of the last 150 years the MOD and armed forces existed to directly make UK defence manufacturers rich , now I suppose they exist primarily to make them indirectly rich .

      Take your point about the engineering expertise .

      Our sixth form colleges have disposed of their machine tools because of health and safety and litigation worries . Not sure who is going to be capable of doing these sort of jobs in the future or whether there are enough people left to pass ont their skills on to teach them .

      I'm hoping to grab a manual lathe with a decent centre-height from the disposals .

      Yep you are right about the focus of our education , what good turning out hundreds of thousands of historians ?

      As for the MOD providing answers to why they are busy doing nothing doesn't that apply to the politicised Police as well ?

  8. Avikal
    August 10, 2010

    Much of the resistance coming towards the idea of removing all our Troops from Germany and closing bases comes from the Officers Wife Class. I attanded a first class Military boarding school in Germany and my parents who were in the Forces were based at the HQ of Rheindahlen. Its like a small to medium town which spends lots of Euros. The Officer Class has lovely detached three and four bedroomed houses with a ready local supply of cleaners, housekeepers and gardeners. Sport is plentiful with great rugby pitches, football, gymnasiums and also squash courts. Social life at the Sergeants or Officers Mess is second to none. The booze is free of tax ( was in my day) and you get doubles but only pay singles at the Visitors Officers Mess. Its all about "Perks" for the Landed Gentry, the Officer Class and those with clout, in the end. We do not need any of them to be there now.

  9. Robert George
    August 10, 2010

    I know it is anaethema to some Tories but someone has to bite the bullet and resolve the political impasse in the Falklands. Where is the justification for aircraft carriers or indeed any military presence outside the 200 mile limits of UK's economic zone once that is resolved . The hard truth is that the Falklands are not worth a carrier, oil or not.

    My next point is that UK should get rid of its UN seat, it brings nothing but aggravation and what are the benefits? If anyone says it enables us "to fight above our weight" I shall puke!

    If the defence of Britain was limited to the state and the 200mile economic zone we could save a fortune and recognise the reality of our place as a minor power

    1. Trev
      August 10, 2010

      The Falklands do not need an aircraft carrier – it has a military capable airfield and a nuclear submarine on patrol.

      1. Robert George
        August 11, 2010

        It's not worth a Nuclear sub either!!

        Defence procurement and deployment only make sense if the foreign policy makes sense Britains does not, placing far too much emphasis on nostalgia for the past. Let's get practical and fix the difference between a romanticised vision and the fact we cannot afford it.

        1. Mark
          August 11, 2010

          I imagine taxes on oil produced could make defence of the Falklands self-financing – at least so long as we don't have to fight Obama.

      2. Blank Xavier
        August 11, 2010

        Those facilities are only useful if you have enough military force present. If you have an airfield but you only keep a few planes there, it's almost no use (and your airfield will be the very first thing your enemy destroy). So for every airfield you have, you have to keep it well equipped with very expensive aircraft and almost all of the time, they're not used, because no one is attacking.

        An aircraft carrier, however, can transport its 50 or 60 expensive planes to wheve-ever there's trouble, when that trouble occurs.

    2. Blank Xavier
      August 11, 2010

      What happens if something unexpected occurs and we find we *do* need a military presence?

      Are you so confident in the world and future that you can say we reasonably do no longer require the ability to project military force?

      And if we do retain that ability, then we by default also protect the Falklands.

      1. Robert George
        August 12, 2010

        The reality since President Monroe ('s Doctrine) has been that no other power is allowed to project their power in the American hemisphere without the USA agreeing they may do so.

        My basic argument is that any defence policy for Britain should be based on our self achievable foreign and economic policies. Those policies are severely limited and yet we persist in allowing ourselves the delusion that we can project our power and influence when we clearly cannot.

        Even the United States has been unable to project its power beyond the deployment of air and sea forces. They can only deploy their army for very limited objectives because their own domestic policies stop them behaving like the conquerors of old.

        UK cannot and will not be able to independently project her military force outside her immediate locality without the consent of the USA .Surely we will learn to accept the lesson of Suez 1956 someday,

  10. alan wheatley
    August 10, 2010

    OK, but I would like to comment on one point. The fleet is not going to reply on aircraft carriers for air defence; missile systems are a much better bet, plus passive techniques.

    Aircraft carriers are good at establishing a base of operations and providing a rapid response to incidents over a large area. They are, therefore, an ideal vessel for anti-piracy operations. I am,of course, making the assumption that merchant ship's crews maintain a good look out and shout for help in time. Perhaps if they knew help could arrive quickly with overwhelming firepower they would be more inclined so to do!

    THis response has also come in via email from Lola
    I think that the analysis is much simpler than we think. Essentially Government has about 5 core responsibilities, the primary one is defence. This is because 'the State' is essentially a method of securing the rights of property for its inhabitants over an agreed area of land.

    In the case of the UK, a great trading power, we have rightly added the protection of our trade routes and trading partners to this core responsibility, and this is now needed more than ever since today’s pirates are vastly more sophisticated and have much more sophisticated weapons and capability. So we can see from history the shape of the armed forces we need to maintain.

    As JR indicates this means a small, very professional Army with the basic structure capable of rapid expansion in national emergency. Cadres of core people and capability need to be maintained, (as the regimental system did well) along with continuing R&D into and deployment of the appropriate machines of war.

    But, as we are a trading nation, and we understand and absolutely believe in the rule of (international) law, and that we know that defence may often best be served by the ability to project power over long distances, it has always been in our interests to maintain a relatively large Navy (and associated Royal Marine soldiery). Furthermore as was proved in WW2 (and in the Falklands) and is now absolutely the case command of the air is a prerequisite if you want to operate a fleet anywhere near land.

    The preceding indicates that our ground and naval forces need their own air component. The Army as flying artillery, reconnaissance and troop transport and battlefield mobility and the navy as air defence and attack, ASI capability and the ability to land and support troops. Naval assault on national foreign antagonists could be well accomplished by relatively cheap submarine or ship launched cruise missiles.

    However to interdict air attack on the UK you need some form of interception system and possibly the ability to attack over long distances, although the latter is less important if the navy has suitable air power.

    As regards Nuclear weapons I think that this is not actually a defence system. It is more a threat system. As in 'don't you dare or we will'. I think this needs to be explicitly centrally funded outside the normal defence budget and operated by one of the armed forces, most probably the Navy.

    The foregoing implies an expansion of the navy, a small reduction of the army (achieved by repatriating troops and equipment from Germany) and a considerable reduction in the air force. Or rather a transfer to the Army and Navy of a lot of the Air Force's capability.

    As regards the Navy this all implies an increase in frigates and aircraft carriers and assault capability.

    One other point that needs considering is our responsibility to ensuring the rights of people who choose to be part of the UK 'family'. Place like Gibraltar and the Falklands have self determining populations who choose to remain affiliated to the UK, principally it seems to me, because they endorse the concepts of freedom and the rule of law that have been ours since 1215 and developed there from. It would be very wrong to abandon them to ravages of less suitable masters. This also applies to a lesser degree to the Commonwealth countries, where we would expect to offer assistance as required.

    Hope this helps the debate.


    1. Trev
      August 10, 2010

      Lola –
      you talk about reducing air power but the 2 carriers will entail £10 billion worth of aircraft. What do we have for them to do?
      What is the point of £10 billion worth of aircraft on the other side of the world?

      And what is the point of investing £5 billion on 2 carriers which do not by design have a catapult system but need VTOL aircraft and cannot launch AEW planes??

      The proposed carriers are a joke. we cannot afford them and they will shaft the rest of the navy. We need simpler helicopter carriers which can fly simpler Harrier type planes.

      We struggle to face down the Iranian Navy these carriers will no nothing to help there, they would be considered too vulnerable. Our navy is hopelessly ill configured for what it will need to do.

      1. Lola
        August 11, 2010

        I am not at all talking about reducing air power. I am talking about who should operate it and how it should be deployed. Furthermore I was not commenting on the existing new aircraft carrier design or orders.

        What I was trying to do was to analyse what shape of forces fits our needs. I think that this is consistent with our historic experience. That is a large(ish) Navy, a small(ish) but very professional army maintaining core capability to enable us to easily ramp it up from the population in times of need (plus I think that the TAVR should be encouraged) and redce RAF role which is really air defence of the UK, with again maintaining a skill base to train up the general populace in times of need.

        Essentially I am basing our needs on the Navy witha strong air component and the Army with its own air component, including transport.

        This shape enables us to defend our homeland and project power overseas to protect our trade and trading partners and enforce the rule of international law.

      2. Blank Xavier
        August 11, 2010

        The carriers are designed to permit the fitting of a steam catapult.

        The simpler Harrier type planes do not exist. They would have to be designed and built.

        The value of an aircraft carrier is that you can move it around. The 10 billion pounds worth of aircraft go where you send them. They are extremely useful when you find you need to project military force, which might well on the other side of the world.

    2. Paul Round
      August 11, 2010

      Lola,last time I looked the FIs had a garrison and a fully operational airfield, supported by an airbridge.What do we need carriers for?"Considerable reduction in the air force".What the hell for?This is just another partisan post

      1. Lola
        August 12, 2010

        Well, no. I am not partisan at all. The 'reduction in the Airforce' is not a reduction in air power – just a change in who should operate it.

        In passing it is now well understood that the size of the RN was just as much a deterence to Hitler invading us as the continued existence of the RAF. In other words a big RN (operating its own air defence and attack) is the most important military component for an island nation that trades internationally.

  11. Kevin Peat
    August 10, 2010

    Wouldn't it be wiser to wait and see what the EU has in mind for our future military role before committing ?

    1. Electro-Kevin
      August 11, 2010

      I was being facetious of course.

      But seriously. Is the EU forming into a superstate or not ?

  12. Trev
    August 10, 2010

    Whatever forces we have they need to be properly equipped and properly supported and properly balanced.

    So within the budget we have available we need to come down to the front line numbers that can ensure that.

    This has to be balanced with the strategic national requirements.

    Its all straightforward. Within that we can overstretch our forces for A LIMITED TIME, but as we are configured currently we are permanently overstretched and this is unacceptable.

    Interestingly the size of the battalion is being increased to allow for injury illness rest and indeed death and wounding yet still remain viable.
    Personally I would prefer to see SMALLER regiments banded together into a new tactical unit of a smaller BRIGADE in order to give flexibility and provide a body worthy of all the necessary helicopter artillery and mobile support . this would allow smaller regiments to be rotated through their brigade as necessary.

  13. backofanenvelope
    August 10, 2010

    Before any decisions are made – the "threat" has to be defined.

  14. Stephen W
    August 10, 2010

    I'm with you John. I hope you lobby to these ends to those in the MOD and the rest of the government. We need solid thinking of this type if we are to come through the spending reductions with a military force we can rely on.

  15. jedibeeftrix
    August 10, 2010

    It is no longer necessary to maintain Armoured & Mechanised forces in Germany, Russia is not the Soviet Union and will have a population smaller than that of Germany alone in the next forty years, and NATO now has surety that it operates a purely defensive strategic doctrine. In short; British Forces Germany is an anachronism and we can start with a clean slate, with the additional benefit that it would do much to improve relations between NATO and Russia.

    1. Blank Xavier
      August 11, 2010

      Fourty years is a long time. It is not now and we cannot behave as if it were.

      I rather disagree about Russia not being the Soviet Union, in the same way I think the Soviet Union was rather like Imperial Russia. Russia in the course of its long history has always been aggressively expansionist *regardless of the current type of Government*.

      Relations between NATO and Russia are primarily sour because Russia is a corrupt dictatorship. Disarming NATO is not a route towards improved relations; it is a route toward helplessness.

      1. jedibeeftrix
        August 21, 2010

        but it now lacks the demographics and wealth necessary to rekindle any such ambition.

  16. austin
    August 11, 2010

    Once again, the only way Britain can be faced with loss of independence and sovereingty is by a hegemon on the Eurasian landmass. An effective Royal Navy with global reach is a given. But Britain must retain the ability both on land and in the air to maintin a balance of power on the European continent that does not threaten the Realm. An alliance in the future between Germany and Russia is not beyond comprehension and something British strategists will have to consider.

  17. Lindsay McDougall
    August 11, 2010

    A few years on we will have a choice between spending a lot of money on nuclear weapons and doing what needs to be done to improve our conventional forces. (Beggars have to be choosers!!)

    What are the requirements for nuclear deterrence? We have to be able to destroy two major cities of any potential enemy. That's all. How much does a nuclear deterrent with that capability cost and where can we obtain it?

    Two further thoughts. (1) China is a long way away. It is not a potential enemy. (2) If we actually have to use nuclear weapons, we have lost.

    1. Blank Xavier
      August 11, 2010

      The Soviet Union would laugh at you. They expected war to be fully nuclear and they expected to fight it on the ground with troops and win. If their opponent had only the capability to knock off a city or two, they'd be laughing!

  18. Dan
    August 11, 2010

    Lindsay well said. China is a potential threat to the Pacific powers of Japan and the US it has a couple of warships in the Med at present and it is news as it is so rare. The constant talk of potential enemies being China or North Korea should be met with a firm response that the Pacific is outside our area of responsibility. There is a risk of a Korean war but the idea that a UK contribution of 5-10,000 would make the slightest difference in a land war were the combined armies of the 2 Koreas are well over 1,000,000 men.

    There is a risk of China invades Taiwan but again there is no possibility of UK or any European power backing Taiwan against China.

    This nonsense comes from the default position of some who can not separate the interests of the US which would be involved in both scenarios and the UK which would not.

  19. Mark
    August 11, 2010

    Had the Maori, Shaka Zulu and Patagonian sheep been able to view and understand an atlas they would probably have considered Britain to be something not worth worrying about. In the late 13th century, Kubla Khan headed the Mongol empire which stretched from the China Sea to the Mediterranean and Poland. China is already effectively the colonial power in much of Africa where resources are at stake. Satellites take around an hour and a half to circle the globe. You were saying?

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