Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 11:10:50 AM EST
The First Post UK's defence expert Robert Fox: presents a radical plan on how to modernise the (British) Army and believes that one of the solutions is to copycat the French Foreign Legion (shown).
But how radical is "radical"?
"Hiring foreign nationals should be more flexible - in effect, our own Foreign Legion," Fox says.
Mr Fox's 10-point plan for the 21st century:
* We need flexible forces that can deal with conventional tasks and acquire new skills for humanitarian and disaster relief, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.
* Education, training, welfare and support must be improved in order to encourage recruitment. Servicemen and women should be offered something like the American GI Bill - an educational or vocational qualification, a contract of a minimum six to ten years, plus incentives including a provision for housing when they leave.
* We need to be able to hire more foreigners from more countries - Commonwealth and EU and other nationals should be invited under strict contract terms. In effect, our own Foreign Legion.
* The structure of the forces needs to be less fragmented and complex. There are too many HQs. The Army, in particular, is over-officered.
* The RAF should be held at 40,000 personnel, and should stick to its core business of deep strike, surveillance, transport and emergency rescue.
* The Royal Navy should stick to its task of keeping the sea lanes open and preserving maritime security.
* The Army should be restructured as a mobile force of about 90,000 plus a permanent reserve and volunteer reserve of about 10-15,000 each. Like the Roman army, it should be built on an ascending scale of
simple building blocks, the company (a few hundred), the battle group or battalion of 1,000, and the brigade of about 3,500.
* The old regimental cap badges could be kept for team loyalty, but should fit the new structure rather than the other way round.
* More obscure specialisations such as arctic and jungle warfare should be cut.
* Extravagant equipment programmes need to be cut or cancelled. The Typhoon aircraft (£24bn), the Astute submarine programme
Right off the bat, much of what he says is good, but hardly radical. This is how the military thinks anyway. If Mr Fox wants to save money he has to look at the next step. The real issue is how to take huge chunks out of the budget. It is extremely difficult to see how to do this on the manpower front when all the services are grossly overstretched. The hit has to come on military infrastructure and equipment programmes. Thus we need to decide which are the white elephants from the cold war and what do we really need.
For me this comes in several parts:
At sea we need ships. The carrier is probably essential to support operations around the world and a couple of larger capable warships to accompany the carrier. Do we need other ships to be quite so capable as modern Destroyers and Frigates (very Cold War), or could we make do with something that achieves 80% of capability at 50% of the price? Something along the lines of the corvettes we are building for export might be suitable. We could increase hull numbers, still do all the peacekeeping, anti-drug patrols and also save cost. The submarine fleet also needs close scrutiny.
The Astute will be fantastic, but there will be so few that it will be difficult to keep manpower fully trained to operate them properly; in addition with such a small build the unit cost escalates dramatically and one has to question whether the nation is getting real value for money. Would we be better with less capable but more hulls? Is the Astute an attempt to keep up with the "big boys" or is it really necessary? The Trident replacement is probably essential in the modern world.
In the air we have some of the greatest aircraft: There is no doubt that Typhoon is wonderful, but it was designed in the late 70s and is very very definitely cold war. The JSF is going to be the most brilliant aircraft, but also the most expensive. However our great pilots insist on the best and so we have to go for the best. If only we could go for 80% solution again we could see some dramatic savings.
The alternatives are Gripen or Rafale and, of the two, the Rafale is probably the best option as it is designed for carrier operations. What a fantastic saving is here and, in addition, what a tremendous nod in the direction of Europe. We will have truly compatible carriers and air operations at one fell swoop. Not just vast capital savings, but through life savings as well. However, the UK cannot bring itself to realise that the threat from Napoleon has disappeared, or perhaps it is simple pride. How humiliating!
On the ground the British armed forces are one of the most efficient in the world. Their flexibility is renowned. In the last 5 years the operations they have been required to perform have been at great distance and against a very difficult enemy. The equipment programme has been constantly modified to keep up with the changing demand and, although there have been issues, it has kept pace fairly well. With so much uncertainty it is difficult to see any great savings being realised.
Command and Control is an area that is changing as fast as IT changes. In other words it is extremely difficult to keep-up. There is more and more Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) equipment, and rightly so. In theory we should see cost benefits in this area, but the changes are so fast that the savings in one sense are overcome by the pace of obsolescence in the other. Real savings in this area are not as obvious as they appear.