July 2004 -  OCTOBER 19th 2010

JULY 23 2004
Let me start by getting rid of one line of argument that has to be dumped for good. We have heard it said today that we cannot cut the infantry numbers because, for example, we need to keep a sufficient reserve in case the Firemen go on strike. I have news for the man who uses that argument - and it may or may not be news to the reader.

It is not the job of the British Army to stand in for the fire services any more than it is for Firemen to fight or peace-keep across the globe, for Britain or our allies or the UN. In the case of a terrorist arson attack, if the Fire Service were to be overwhelmed, the Army would come to their assistance if this was possible in the time; but the Army is not there to take the place of firemen on strike. We all depend on our public services, and those which are dangerous and demanding such as the Police and Fire services have to be staffed by people who take it seriously. They may lose their lives defending the innocent and sometimes rescuing the foolish as well as the unlucky. They and the rest of us hope that most of the time this is not the case, and casualties are rare, but there will be times when they are not.

All this has nothing to do with firemens' salaries or terms of employment - both of these are known to the individual when he starts a career in the service. But what has happened in the last few years in the way of suddenly rising living expenses associated with property prices etc has caught some people by surprise. It has made some richer on paper, in theory. But for others it has brought financial problems - additional expenses they had not anticipated, losses they had not anticipated. These are the pressures that can lead to industrial action. But the army is not there to get involved in domestic politics or to stand in for the the firemen, and that has to be clearly understood by all. We have to remain a coherent society that is self supporting. If we are not, we are no longer a nation worth defending and we might as well disband all our armed services.

Now to more sensible issues. The changes being brought about are not designed to reduce the number of personnel who do those jobs that are seen to be needed, where individuals on the ground, at sea or in the air are bringing stability and security. The move to modern technology is precisely to enable more people to be in the visible, front-line positions where they meet the real world. This is achieved by releasing them from the mass of administrative tasks that are still being handled by outdated methods. It is achieved by mastering the control of information, not the proliferation of it. It means knowing what is going on, and where, so that the very people who count, who can give matters their personal attention, are taken by surprise less often, can get to the scene more quickly, with the equipmen and skills that are required. So the high-tech investement, that has been criticised by some as no substitute for people on he ground, is not even attempting that. It is to get more people on the ground, at the right time.

It is an emotional shock when an RAF Squadron is axed, when a Station like Coltishall, with all its history, is closed. It is a challenge to the commercial survival of the local community. But it is impossible to devise a world in which this cannot happen without building up wider situations which would become dangerously unstable. These changes do not come without warning. They are not implemented instantly. They take time to take effect. The changes that are planned are to prepare for tasks that are required in the future, in a changing world.

JB July 23 2004

DECEMBER 13 2006  Since writing the above, it appears that global demands on the military have risen but global job opportunities for potential recruits to the British Army have not made recruitment of 'the best' a piece of cake.

Military shortages "pose danger"

 Wednesday December 13, 10:32 AM

LONDON (Reuters) - A shortage of troops and equipment could compromise British military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, lawmakers said on Wednesday.

The military is struggling to recruit, train and keep staff, while their work is expanding, a report by an influential parliamentary panel said.

Army chiefs have warned that Britain's forces are fully stretched, with 7,200 based in southern Iraq and nearly 6,000 more fighting a revitalised Taliban in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose popularity plunged over the Iraq war, has come under pressure to improve pay and conditions for the armed forces.

Parliament's Defence Select Committee, which scrutinises defence ministry policy and spending, said the shortages would hit Britain's ability to "fight the next war".

The panel also raised concerns over the lack of helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Britain is a key U.S. ally.

"They are operating in challenging conditions in insufficient numbers and without all the equipment they need," their report says.

"With problems of undermanning continuing, there is a clear danger that the armed forces will not be capable of maintaining current commitments over the medium-term."

A fifth of Britain's armed forces are deployed on military operations.

Last week, former British army chief General Sir Mike Jackson said the government was "asking too much" of the armed forces.

"There is ... a mismatch between what we do and the resources we are given," he said.

In October, his successor, General Sir Richard Dannatt, sparked controversy when he said British troops had "exacerbated" problems in Iraq. He warned that his forces were badly stretched.

The Conservatives said Blair must take urgent steps to tackle shortages in the armed forces.

"He must address the mismatch between our military commitments and the decrease in our frontline capabilities," said Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox.

In a statement, the defence ministry said it was "keenly aware" of the burdens placed on its staff, but said the operations were sustainable.

"Commanders are content that the armed forces can cope with the current level of military commitments," it said.

DECEMBER 24th 2006    Before reading the following, bear in mind that the maintenance of the UK Armed Forces over the past 30 years has been financed due to the discovery and exploitation of North Sea Oil and Gas, often by British companies and always with benefit to the UK Treasury. That is not to say we cannot develop and exploit other assets and talents to keep them up to scratch in the future, but it will not happen without a deliberate policy to ensure this happens.

Armed forces 'face tinpot future'
Britain's armed forces could be reduced to a "tinpot gendarmerie" because of a lack of investment, the former head of the Royal Navy has warned.

Admiral Sir Alan West said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was behaving "like these tinpot countries" that do not put money into major equipment programmes.

He told the Sunday Telegraph Britain's global status could be at risk if plans for two aircraft carriers were dropped.

"Our forces are among the best equipped in the world," an MoD spokeswoman said.

Sir Alan, who retired this year, told the newspaper that the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier programme was the "jewel in the crown of the strategic defence review".

He said he had set aside £3.5bn for the project, but warned: "There are officials within the MoD who are casting lascivious looks at [the programme].

"There is no doubt that the rats are out there having a nibble. If Britain wants to remain a world power and to operate with a deal of freedom around the world, these two carriers are vital."

He said reshaping the forces for "anti-terror" campaigns in places like Iraq may risk the UK's long-term security.

He said it "was a recipe for disaster" for a defence force which may have so much to do in the next 50 years.

But a spokeswoman for the MoD said the defence budget for 2007-8 would be £3.7bn higher than in 2004-5 in real terms.

"We are using these extra resources to modernise our armed forces to meet the challenges of the 21st Century," she said.

'Frankly shaming'

Sir Alan also warned that in 10 years' time the threat facing the UK could be something "far more dangerous than terrorism in central Asia".

He said that by spending money on running rather than developing the armed forces "all we could be left with is an armed forces that is effectively a gendarmerie.

"And I suppose we would retire to our island and hope that no-one gets to us."

Sir Alan is the latest senior military figure to speak out about issues affecting the armed forces.

In October, army head Gen Sir Richard Dannatt said in a newspaper interview that the presence of UK troops in Iraq "exacerbates the security problems" and they should "get out some time soon".

And his predecessor Gen Sir Mike Jackson earlier this month criticised the Ministry of Defence's running of the armed forces.

NOVEMBER 23rd 2007

It is a pity that the call from the retired Chiefs of the General Staff has descended to abuse of the PM. His absence at certain meetings on certain occasions, political, military and social, has in the past often been taken as rudeness or contempt and this is unfortunate, as it was never the case. We most of us carry a certainamount of 'baggage' with us as we make out way up the career ladder . Only a few like myself have the opportunity to start at the top and work their way down under the excuse of experimental research and development. Gordon Brown has done his best to carry his persona and his personal aims through the stormy waters. It is hard to be all things to all men and women.

The retired chiefs are right, our military is overstretched. But that is not for lack of poilitical will in the cabinet. Nor can I go along with the mother of a soldier whose unfortunate death MIGHT have been avoided if new bomb-detection devices had been taken outof stores a week earlier and fitted to his particular vehicle. These things take time. Being a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is a very dangerous occupation. That is what soldiers do. So I welcome the call from the Chiefs of Staff, but we must understand that fighting a necessary war in a far off land is like any arduous task, full of circumstances which go beyond our comfort zone. We will be asked to do the impossible just as any team climbing Everest. With limitless funds and supplies we would still be reliant on human factors, the skill and determination of our armed services personnel. American casualties have been considerable.

So the reason we need more funding is not to fight war in safety and comfort, but to sustain the battle and win as soon as we can for the sake of the civilians in the countries where these operations take place. We need to plan for the future. The UK and France are the nations that in effect provide the nuclear shield for the European Union, thereby rendering European nuclear proliferation unnecessary. They also provide, with help from our braver small EU members, the effective expeditionary fighting forces to carry out UN and EU and NATO tasks. We are therefore in my view in a position to demand, from the richer EU states who do not contribute in men or machinery, to contribute in funding to the UK defence budget if there turn out to be tasks that we carry out globally on their behalf.

The descent of the once mighty Dollar is an important factor to take into consideration here. It is giving Airbus one hell of a problem, but perhaps there is another side to the coin which might enable Europe to play an interesting financial card or two.

JANUARY 17th 2010
We have been fighting a war in Afghananistan on a peacetime military budget for some time. Recent additions to the equipment have been afforded by cuts elsewhere. Today the head of the army makes some interesting points in The Sunday Times about the army of the future:

General Sir David Richards calls for new cyber-army

General Sir David Richards, the chief of the general staff, says future wars will require fewer tanks and ships but more high-tech troops

General Richards says good soldiers are far cheaper than ships and aircraft

THE head of the British Army has foreshadowed the biggest change in fighting tactics since the cavalry was phased out in favour of tanks more than 80 years ago.

General Sir David Richards, the chief of the general staff, wants more troops, unmanned spy planes and high-tech cyber-defences to be paid for by slashing the budget for ships and fighter jets.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Richards said the UK’s armed forces were facing a new “horse versus tank moment” to cope with the challenges of modern warfare. The success of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the emerging threat of cyber-attacks against Britain’s infrastructure made radical change unavoidable. “People say I’m only talking about war with non-state actors [such as the Taliban],” said Richards. “I’m not. I’m saying this is how even war between states is more likely to be fought in the future.”

The general’s views, particularly his call for fewer ships, aircraft and even tanks, may put him on a collision course with other armed forces chiefs. Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, the head of the navy, recently argued that the focus on Afghanistan risked leaving Britain exposed to other threats.

Richards, however, compared his critics to the cavalry officers who insisted, long after the introduction of the tank in the first world war, that it would never replace horses.

He believes today’s opponents of change underestimate the way in which Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban, combined with the growing sophistication of cyber-terrorists, have rewritten the rules of war. “We’ve been in denial ever since the end of the cold war,” he said. In the two decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the military has fought a succession of stabilisation or counterinsurgency operations in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“But in our heart of hearts, we thought that was an aberration and we’d go back to jolly old war-fighting like in the western desert or a hot version [with battle lines drawn] of the cold war.”

With a defence review set to follow a spring general election, Richards will expand on his views tomorrow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

“Some are waiting for a conventional invasion of uniformed troops, ready to be repulsed by heavy armour or ships,” he said. However, with few countries capable of spending the billions required to challenge America and its Nato allies in a conventional war, the general believes such attacks are less likely.

Instead, countries opposed to Britain and the US will have seen from Basra and Helmand “that for relatively little cost, unsophisticated opponents with very cheap weaponry” can pose big threats. Some 249 British soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001.

“Why would you not learn a lesson from that and think, ‘Actually, that’s how I would bring down great nations and great alliances, much more subtly, cleverly and at much less risk’?”

Richards is adamant Britain will still need ships, aircraft and tanks — but fewer. What will be required are more soldiers, more helicopters to carry them and more unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, capable of revealing enemy locations.

Richards said he lived in “the real world” and envisaged significant spending cuts in the defence review — but argued that good soldiers were far cheaper to maintain than ships and aircraft.

“My instinct as a soldier is that you’ll need quality manpower,” he said. “Soldiers give you the most choice and the most utility in today’s sort of conflict.”

Richards said technological advances also mean that Britain will need to develop better defensive and offensive measures to ward off cyber-attacks, possibly from state sponsors such as China and Russia.

Whatever the outcome of the defence review, Richards is adamant that Britain and its allies must succeed in Afghanistan. He also played down concerns expressed by some UK commanders that they might be forced to give up parts of Helmand, such as Sangin or Musa Qala, to the US troop surge.

“While the Americans are going in in such quantity, there’s no point in us hanging on to something simply because we’ve got an affection for it,” he said.

“Success in Afghanistan would demonstrate our commitment to the organisations — Nato and the UN — that have guaranteed peace for more than half a century. Defeat would act as a match, lighting a fuse that could set light to parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, bringing down governments and undermining peace around the world,” Richards said.

JUNE 14th 2010
We now have a new government, a Conservative-Liberal coalition. I refer the reader here to the entry of today's date on the file for the start of this government, which covers defence cuts.

AUGUST 8th 2010
Here are the rumours, published in The Telegraph, of drastic defence cuts.

I am not sure the current government has a clear perception of globalisation and how it affects national economics, global security and the role of Britain in alliances and the international community. We do need to re-organise, but not on the basis of cutting expenditure or the human resources employed in our armed forces, though there could be some hefty cuts on the non-productive side just as the civil service needs a cull - but not at the real coal-face or necessary admin. There could on the other hand be an increase in intake and training where there is a need. We must estimate the need in the foreseeable future, building in flexibility and making sure skills and experience in critical streams are not broken.

The defence of these islands is now based on different criteria to those of previous eras. We are not a target for invasion by any recognised state. We are a target for the violent or insidious actions of the citizens of failed states and nations in civil and political disarray. The role of our military must be in its vital contribution to the stability of the EU and NATO and as part of any coalition of the willing able to act on behalf of the UN. Our defence is based on global stability, not on stopping the Dutch sailing up the Medway or Russia achieving air superiority prior to buying our football clubs. George Osborne has defined our national position as liability, not an asset, so nobody wants us other than refugees fleeing war and destitution compared to which our credit crunch and crime level is luxury.

There are roles we can carry out at sea, in the air, on land and in combined operations in which the above mentioned international organizations must have a leading a capability if they are have to be in a position to play any meaningful role in maintaining global stability and any civilization worth the name. Unless we intend to delegate not only what we do now but what we could do should it be required to others, we cannnot and should not reduce our capability in any way. Before we delegate to others, they must show they are capable, ready and agreeable to accept the role.

France and the UK hold a nuclear deterrent which serves all of Europe. This is what we call a nuclear umbrella. Somebody has to hold it because these weapons exist in the world. Nuclear umbrellas prevent proliferation. No European nation wishes to take it on or for us to give it up, though a massive global reduction in the nuclear stockpile is a very important item on the international agenda.

Trident is the cheapest way to maintain a credible deterrent. In deterrence, credibility is all. Other suggestions always welcome.

The UK should definitely have a top class Navy, with carriers and the aircraft to go with them. I don't think any further explanation is needed, though a study of maritime piracy should add to the argument

The RAF is a more complicated issue. While we do not need air superiority to prevent a conventional invasion, we most certainly need air superiority over these islands and in alliance with our EU neighbours, over Europe, for a great many reasons. Aerial attack is at the moment the greatest vulnerability of every nation. We also need to impose air superiority in any theatre where we operate from time to time at sea or on land over the globe on alliance or our own legitimate interests. One of the complicated factors that make our calculations of airpower requirements so difficult is that modern aircraft are the product of a huge industrial process spearheaded by the major aircraft manufacturers. This cannot be wound up and down at the whim of government ministers or the treasury.

There is no rational solution to the economic problems associated with UK's defence budget without a realisation that security is based on our alliances and on regional responsibility and interests being realised and accepted. Public support is required in democracies, but pragmatism must replace ideology and nationalism. It does not help having people such as ex US UN Ambassador Bolton shouting that he doesn't give a toss about hearts and minds, just achieving and enforcing goals, when it is obvious that it was hearts and minds everywhere, at home and abroad, that brought victory in WW2 every bit as much as equipment.

When it comes to the Army, recent experience should give us a very good idea of what we can do, can't do, should do and must be able to do. Personally I think some form of military training should be part of every UK citizen's early life, with a civil alternative version available for conscientious objectors. This will give a basis on which to have a pool to draw on. At the moment, the reason people join any of the services is not based on anything rooted widely in the community. When it come to equipment we need to decide what we should develop, build, buy or borrow.

SEPTEMBER 16th 2010
After some meaningless argument about whether the Treasury of the MOD should pay for the upgrade of Trident (or any replacement) it has now been sensibly suggested that, since the financial problems are immediate and related to our ability to borrow at reasonable interest rates, the upgrade to Trident could be mildly delayed, thereby bringing a considerable, immediate, if temporary saving in the defence budget. With caution, I suggest this is the right move and presumably has been on the back burner for some time. More detailed arguments on our nuclear deterrent are in the file on that subject.

SEPTEMBER 29th 2010
I can understand Dr Fox being annoyed that he can't send a memo to PM without it being leaked to the Telegraph but what he had to say was so bleedin' obvious that he should have said it in puiblic, very loudly, in the first place. For once I go along with the editorial choice of The Telegraph to publish its stolen material.

OCTOBER 19th 2010
The Defence Cuts are announced offcially.
The Harrier cuts are not such a good idea. We need to keep (in my view) a trained contingent of VTOL pilots and aircraft. They have more uses than carrier borne take-off and carrier landing. However, in any event we should get one carrier operational a soon as possible.  If the facts were as Cameron states, he could have some justification for his complaints and his unsatisfactory solutions, but it is not clear that they are.

FEBRUARY 16th 2011
SERIOIUS CUTS IN RAF PILOTS IN TRANING, AND IN EXPERIENCED ARMY WARRANT-OFFICERS have sent shock waves through the country as well as the services affected. There is some reason to suppose that these cuts may save some expenditure in the short term but the disruption of the systems is risky. The notices of end of employment was very badly handled, presumably due to the speed with which these cuts are being implemented. I am not going to write much here until I have had a long think about this.

APRIL 14th 2011
Libya: Nato appeals for more planes

The Libyan operation is a European problem. We led the decision making. But NATO without the USA says it hasn't enough planes/pilots ready to do the job the UN, through its resolutions, consigned to NATO to carry out. How is this possible? The only European countries that appear to be making a big enough profit to stay solvent these days are unwilling to carry out NATO duties. In that case, in the words of Bob Geldof, just SEND US YOUR F***ING MONEY so that those who are doing the job can get on with it.