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Modernising the British Army radically

by The3rdColumn 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.

Couple of points.

We have our own Foreign Legion in the form of the Gurkha's, don't we?

And secondly, is there any reason why we need nuclear weapons (and the atsronomical costs associated) other than:

(a) it shows what Big Swinging Dicks we are;

(b) the French have them?

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 03:16:04 PM EST
I would take a). Real Big Swinging Dicks have nukes. Real Big Swinging Dicks don't eat quiche.

And like them or not, nukes are also a pretty good and overall inexpensive life insurance against would-be conventional invaders. Nothing like the perspective of getting 400 of your major cities vitrified to concentrate the mind before you cross the Oder-Neisse. They don't do squat against low grade aggression or terrorists but against invasions, they work. And invasions are really expensive when you are on the receiving end. I know that good old fashioned invasions between major countries seem, err, quaint and a remote possibility but don't forget they've gone out of fashion for a reason.

I'd rather question the expense of very sophisticated conventional weapons and systems for what should be fairly low tech forces, geared toward ruggedness and flexibility. When the local uppity brown people fire a SAM or an AA gun to your low flying highly sophisticated plane, it goes boom all the same no matter the price tag on said plane.

And then, I would simply question the wisdom of the expeditionary mindset in current military thinking. I'm sure very serious and important people who decide of those things have very serious and important reasons to go in far away countries and, out of pure generosity I'm certain, deal with unruly local uppity brown people in a highly sophisticated, finely targeted, collateral-minimized, most humanitarian and more or less internationally sanctioned manner but, personally, I can't think of any.

by Francois in Paris on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 06:25:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Aren't the Gurkha maoists nowadays ? <whistling while looking at the Kanchenjunga in the far horizon>

"What can I do, What can I write, Against the fall of Night". A.E. Housman
by margouillat (hemidactylus(dot)frenatus(at)wanadoo(dot)fr) on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 06:47:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Who cares? They are still great fighters who do what they're told.

By the way, the entire plan sounds a lot like what the Swedish armed forces and politicians are doing. Cut all the good expensive anti-invasion stuff (fighter bombers, submarines, tanks) and replace it with lighter colonial expeditionary forces. A horrible idea to my mind as I don't think the conventional threat is any more gone now than it was in 1925, nor do I see why we should go around and intervene all over the world. Sweden is not an empire.

Thankfully, this transformation from defence against invasion to offensive intervention is also a very strong catalyst for change in the armed forces. It has led us from a drafted army to a professional one, to the reintroduction of NCO's, to having a standing amry and into all relevant NATO strucutures without any kind of public debate slowing us down. And it is laying the groundwork for a better and stronger anti-invasion defence of the future.

The top generals I have talked to are just as high on rysskräck as I am.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 03:17:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is there any reason why we need nuclear weapons

The theory I was always told  was mostly (a) in that it guarantees us  a permanent seat on the UN security council, and so provides senior politicians with  endless photo opertunities without having to get their penisis out for comparison with other world leaders.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 07:16:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Re: Couple of points.

Ah, but Gurkhas don't wear the képi blanc.

Well, on (a): can't include myself in the showi off Big Swinging Dicks category (I'm an alpha Mum!)

I think something to do with (b).

by The3rdColumn on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 07:37:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But to answer your question,
is there any reason why we need nuclear weapons (and the atsronomical costs associated) other than...

Off the top of my head, it's really all about making US defence industry rich. US supplies us with nuke technology. (I have a suspicion that the US blackmails Britain relentlessly, "If you don't cooperate, I won't sell you Trident replacement and you ain't gonna be a super power no more!" )

by The3rdColumn on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 07:50:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Conspiracy theorists posit a secret appendix to the treaty that got Britain Trident that Margret Thatcher signed, that guaranteed British support for U.S. adventures.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 08:17:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There was a time when people couldn't understand/were seriously wondering why on earth a supposedly intelligent Tony Blair followed and played idiotic Bush's all out barker for the invasion of Iraq, speculations were that Bush was holding him by the balls precisely because of Trident, i.e., US was holding back -- the Trident replacement programme replacement was running late.

by The3rdColumn on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 08:29:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Have you read This ?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 07:27:55 PM EST
Nope -- have you?
by The3rdColumn on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 07:37:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, interesting book, says that theres a tacit identical three way split of the defence budget between the three services, so a reorganisation of the army or airforce would need to be resource intensive to maintain the respective status of senior officers. also contains much discussion of the ineptitude of the British defence industry, (Especially BAe)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 08:13:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That should be an interesting read. Thanks for the tip -- will ask my baby boy to get me a copy (for my birthday.)
by The3rdColumn on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 08:33:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On MoD budget cuts -- MoD is facing serious 'charges' that troops sent to fight in Iraq and Afghanisan do so with no proper equipment. Brown's cost cutting measures when he was chancellor were responsible for the pathetic state of the British Army.

by The3rdColumn on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 08:37:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well if he dosn't, email me an address and I'll throw it in the post.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 08:44:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why, thank you! Very sweet of you. Promise to keep you posted.
by The3rdColumn on Thu Feb 21st, 2008 at 08:48:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What's gobsmacking is why the MoD insists on the JSF, clearly, a US cold war elephant. The JSF, at $276 billion, is reported to be the Pentagon's most expensive weapon, and is said to consume some 90 percent of the money the Pentagon is spending on new fighter jets. US defence industry giant Lockheed Martin is running it in conjuction with international funding and industrial participation with Britain topping the list of the international funders and industrial participants.

Do we really need this aircraft? Almost certainly not. It may perform far ahead of any competition but by the time anyone else (China, India or perhaps Russia?) gets to this level we will be using UAVs for almost all dangerous mission anyway!

by The3rdColumn on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 11:00:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is why Arms Control Treaties are important.

The US has been working on the JSF, and it's bigger and badder (and canceled) cousin the F-22 Raptor, since the 80's.  I remember playing games in 1990 that featured them.

With a 30-year development timeframe, it's not terribly practical to wait until there's an actual threat to start building cutting edge military aircraft.  So, it's understandable why planners would keep working on these things, as it's always sort of hard to predict what's going to be needed in 30 years.

A proper conventional forces treaty, if signed by all the major powers, kills this dynamic entirely.

Of course, Russia and China are not terribly likely to be interested in such a treaty, given how anything that locked the powers into the status quo would lock them into a permanent subordinate position.

by Zwackus on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 09:23:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First, forget anything about aircraft carriers etc. Modern missile technology makes such things nothing other than floating mass graves. Indeed, the Argentines should have slaughtered you all in the Falklands, and would have done, except that incompetence and morale does play some part in war, (and a large part when the rest is neglected).

As for modernizing the British army, it is simple ... abolish it. The British army exists as a modern regiment of Hessians to supplement US requirements. (The same may be said of the Bundeswehr, unfortunately.) Otherwise the UK army has been worthless since the end of the First World War, when it was effectively finished, and survived only in later years because Hitler's absurd 'Aryan' sentimentalism enabled an evacuation from Dunkirk. Killing Irish civilians and people in Malaya and Kenya, but getting booted out of places where there might be serious consequences (e.g. Hong Kong) is not something of which to be proud.

The UK army is a hangover from days gone by, from the days of Wellington. But those days are no more. It is not needed any longer.

by wing26 on Sat Feb 23rd, 2008 at 06:20:46 AM EST
Re: "As for modernizing the British army, it is simple ... abolish it."

Soldier, can't lie to you -- most idiotic plan, hence disapproved!

by The3rdColumn on Sat Feb 23rd, 2008 at 07:41:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, it's a little harsh. But if we combined the Royal Navy, the Armee de l'air and the Heer to form an independent European Army and dissolve the rest, we could save a lot of money without losing much actual strength.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Sat Feb 23rd, 2008 at 09:03:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sensible plan... carry on, Turambar!
by The3rdColumn on Sat Feb 23rd, 2008 at 11:25:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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