A Guide to the 2020 Integrated Review

By Nicholas Drummond

As life returns to a new kind of normal, a key Government initiative that’s back on the agenda is the Integrated Review. This will be the most significant reconfiguration of Britain’s defence and security needs in a decade. When David Cameron’s coalition government came to power in 2010, it inherited a massive budget deficit caused by the global financial crisis of 2008. Consequently, the 2010 SDSR was not an attempt to reconfigure Britain’s Armed Forces around existential threats. It was about cutting the Navy, Army and Air Force so that net borrowing could be reduced. Defence spending fell by 8%.[1] Total headcount across all three services was reduced from 175,000 regular personnel to 145,000 – a drop of 17%. Renewal initiatives were delayed, reduced in scope or simply cancelled. A new euphemism: “capability holiday,” was used to describe the gaps in our ability to support key roles. Despite reduced defence resources, there was no corresponding reduction in foreign policy aspirations. To make matters worse, this happened at a time when a significant number of British service men and women were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It meant that Defence was being asked to do too much with too little. 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 Integrated Review goal was to align foreign policy, defence, security and international development. This was a welcome initiative. It makes total sense to redefine Britain’s place on the international stage by identifying the essential roles we must fulfil while only adding the additional discretionary roles we can afford. We can then reconfigure our defence, security and international development needs around these new priorities. The reality of doing this, however, is that our desire to be a world power is limited by the size of our economy. If we are forced to adopt a more realistic and reduced set of defence and security tasks, at least we will be able to resource them better and thus perform them to a higher standard.

However, today we are faced with a similar crisis to 2010. The impact of Covid-19 is likely to reduce GDP by 9%.[2]This equates to a £4-£5 billion reduction in the Defence budget, close to the same amount that was lost in 2010 and it will be lost at time when service chiefs were hoping for an annual budget uplift to implement the modernisation initiatives delayed by the previous crisis. A further concern is that the UK has yet to conclude post-Brexit trade deals with Europe, the USA and other key trading partners. This means that the 2020 Integrated Review is unlikely to be a budget neutral exercise. It may involve jettisoning as much cost as possible so that the ship doesn’t sink. To put it bluntly, the need to save money could turn the well-intentioned 2020 Integrated Review into an unwelcome repeat of the 2010 SDSR.

Will we see corresponding cuts to National Health Service, Education, and Social benefits? Cutting these things is unlikely to help any government get re-elected. But Defence has never been perceived as a vote winner. It’s spending money on something we hope we never have to use. Like an insurance policy, our present circumstances mean it may be expedient to give-up fully comprehensive cover in favour of third-party, fire and theft.

It doesn’t help the cause of the three services that they have been accused of mismanaging their budgets. Navy critics suggest that the costs of implementing Carrier Strike were significantly under-estimated with the investment made at the expense of its core capabilities. Meanwhile, the Army’s detractors have criticised its procurement processes, saying they reveal an inability to buy anything off-the-shelf without adding unnecessary gold plating. The RAF will only buy American aircraft, without a competition, leaving us at the mercy of profligate US defence firms and unfavourable Dollar-Sterling exchange rates. But these are perceptions not reality. The services are getting many more things right than they are getting wrong. Using one or two missteps as justification for deep further cuts is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. 

While Britain’s economy prepares for the double whammy of Covid-19 and Brexit, the world has become more unstable and dangerous than it has been at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963. China’s failure to provide timely warning of the seriousness of Coronavirus, its hawkish aggression in the South China Sea, its unrelenting expansion in Africa and Asia; and zero tolerance towards Hong Kong protesters, show that its mask has well and truly slipped. China’s commitment to global economic supremacy and the reinforcement of its superpower status should worry us. We should be in no doubt that we are engaged in a new Cold War stand-off.

Russia remains a threat to the Baltic states and is conducting an active campaign to destabilise governments that have supported sanctions against it. These were imposed as a result of its annexation of Ukraine territory. Recent Russian “grey zone” activities have come very close to crossing the threshold of conflict. North Korea continues to develop ballistic missiles and may also be furthering its atomic weapons ambitions. Iran is still an active sponsor of global terrorism. Potential adversaries all have the same thing in common: they are ruled by totalitarian regimes that must retain power at all costs. 

Given the above threats and the ongoing need to rebuild UK defence after the most extensive postwar retrenchment, you would expect us to light a fire under modernisation, like the USA, Australia, France and other NATO members. Instead, we are anticipating further cuts. This cannot be right. 

Recent as well as past experience should remind us that conflicts unfold with unexpected speed and severity giving us a very limited response times. Today, we go to war with the military resources we have, not the ones we would ideally like. Furthermore, when it comes to predicting future conflicts, we have a perfect record. We haven’t gotten it right once. This means we need a flexible range of capabilities relevant to a variety of potential scenarios. We also have to be organised so that we can ramp-up recruitment, training and the manufacture of materiel. We need industrial strategies that not only support British jobs, but ensure readiness. 

(Above) The Continuum of Competition illustrates how relations between states can transition from a state of harmony to discord with actions below the threshold of conflict contributing to a ratcheting-up of tensions. As important as “Grey Zone” capabilities may be, they are no substitute for the deterrent effect of “Hard Power.

Investing in defence is like building a wall to keep out wild animals. Such a wall is useless if it has gaps. Unfortunately, Britain’s defence has some serious holes along its length. While numbers alone don’t paint a full picture, reduced quantities have impacted potency of many capabilities. The Royal Navy has only 19 surface combatants and 7 attack submarines. The British Army combat vehicle fleet has an average age of 40 years. The Army’s artillery systems need wholesale renewal. Total RAF combat aircraft were planned to be 232 Typhoons and 138 F-35s, but numbers may be capped at 149 and 72 respectively. Pilot training has been outsourced. Retention of experienced technical specialists is an issue for all three services. Accommodation, pay, pensions and other benefits have fallen behind the private sector, eroding the Armed Forces’ offer, affecting recruitment and retention.

Meanwhile, we talk about investing in AI, unmanned systems and grey zone capabilities. While new domains like Cyber and Space are undoubtedly important, they are no substitute for the deterrent effect of hard power. But our hard power has atrophied without proper regeneration since the end of the Cold War in 1990. As we try to prioritise modernisation initiatives, we must recognise that the Government’s budget is finite. Unable to fund everything we would ideally like, we must choose carefully which battles to fight – quite literally, and spend our money wisely.

So what are our Britain’s immutable Defence & Security roles? There are four over-arching defence commitments that translate into five types of role. Our most fundamental task is to the Domestic Defence of the United Kingdom. This obviously includes resourcing our armed forces to stop an invasion, but this is a highly unlikely scenario. What is more likely is an enemy within. Sabotage of key infrastructure such as power generation, water supply, and food supply chain logistics could potentially be damaged or disrupted. As an island nation we also need to protect sea routes and ensure North Atlantic security. We need to protect UK airspace. Many domestic security tasks fall under the responsibility of the Police, UK Security Services (MI5 and MI6), and GCHQ. The threat of cyber attack and computer hacking could disrupt communications or affect banking networks. There is undoubtedly a need for greater protection against hostile attempts to damage us in these areas. There is also a corresponding need to be able to attack the systems of potential adversaries as a counter to initiatives targeted against us.

The second priority is the Protection UK interests abroad including overseas territories and commonwealth trading partners. This have become a more significant responsibility to secure future prosperity for our post-Brexit economy. China’s policy of active “belt and road” initiatives in lesser developed countries could deny us trading opportunities with existing and potential partners worldwide. This makes international development a more important priority than it was before. In many respects, such initiatives require “soft power” not “hard power.” This is not just about securing favourable trading agreements for our own sake, it is also part of our global responsibility as a key member of the G7 group of countries (USA, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan).

Our third key commitment is Honouring our NATO Treaty obligations. Article 5 stipulates that an attack against one NATO member would be considered as an attack against all. If China or Iran were to attack the United States, we could well find ourselves drawn into an Asian or Middle East conflict. Fourthly, as a member of the United Nations, we might be asked to become part of an international coalition for Action in support of the United Nations. This might involve task like peacekeeping, aid distribution. and disarming rogue states.

The above four roles imply five mission types with varying degrees of risk and intensity. At a basic level, our military capabilities serve as a Deterrence. The goal is to make any attack against us appear so costly as to not be worthwhile. We should be under no illusion that this requires serious investment in high end war fighting capabilities. Next, Hybrid and Proxy warfare operations will seek to achieve foreign policy goals without direct action. Israel’s cyber attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities used a computer virus that caused its centrifuges to spin out of control damaging them and retarding its nuclear programme. It also assassinated key nuclear scientists. While such activities “below the threshold” can be extremely effective, they can severely compromise a country’s global image and reputation for integrity. This means that within the grand scheme of things, there is an additional domain: “Headspace.” This is an ethical domain where the values and beliefs that define a country’s conduct give it moral authority.

Peace support can include separating warring factions, protecting minorities from genocide, providing refugees with a safe haven, preventing the breakdown of law and order, and instituting regime change in certain situations. For many, this role is that of the global policeman. It is controversial because it can be costly in terms of financial resources needed to prosecute such tasks; costly in terms of the amount of time needed to achieve lasting impact and change; costly in terms of casualties; and costly in terms of political fallout at home, when the ends are perceived to no longer justify the means. Recent UK deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan were viewed by some as unwinnable campaigns. This sapped support and lessened our commitment to seeing-through the task.

The next mission type is Limited war. The Falklands conflict of 1982 and Operation Desert Storm of 1991 are classic examples. Force was used to achieve clear goals over a short period of time. Short, sharp interventions can be highly effective tools of foreign policy.

Finally, there is the Major international conflict. it is the scenario we wish to avoid at all costs. This brings us back to deterrence and the need for nuclear weapons. They represent an enormous cost, but have been a highly effective in keeping the peace over the last 75 years. We maintain such weapons because they are the ultimate sanction; but, equally, we maintain credible conventional forces because these reduce the likelihood of ever having to use nuclear weapons.

Britain has historically allocated specific resources across the five role types. In terms of deterrence, the Royal Navy’s ballistic missile submarines deliver our nuclear capability. The RAF’s Typhoon, and soon the E7 Wedgetail AEW&C fleets, will protect our skies. Our frigates, attack submarines and the P8 Poseidon MPA will ensure North Atlantic security. They can also protect our interests further afield. But, the more tasks you allocate to a finite number of ships and aircraft, the more fragmented they become in their effect. During the Cold War, Britain maintained a sizeable Army in Germany to deter a land grab by the Soviet Union. Today, we have a much reduced Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic States, but the goal is the same: to deter Russian expansion.

When it comes to Hybrid and Proxy warfare, we have recognised the need to ramp-up our capabilities in these areas. The question is whether we can do so at the expense of conventional capabilities.

In terms of Peace Support, we recognise the importance of providing disaster relief and this remains an essential commitment. But, we have become much more averse to deploying “boots on the ground” for discretionary deployments. Behind this, however, there is a recognition that sometimes threats abroad need to be nipped in the bud, before they fully develop and impact us at home.

The resources needed for limited wars and major conflicts are not dissimilar. Moreover, if we are equipped for high intensity operations, the same forces can easily be re-focused around low intensity tasks. However, if our forces are only prepared for low intensity operations, they cannot be easily be re-configured for high intensity ones, as they will lack appropriate equipment. Across each of the five role types, specific capabilities will deliver specific effects, but a further question we need to ask is whether reducing our commitment to one area of foreign policy will actually allow us reduce overall capability requirements? Chinook helicopters, for example, offer utility across multiple scenarios, whereas submarines exist only to hunt other submarines and surface vessels. Would we want to reduce our submarine capabilities? Not at all.

For all these reasons, the Integrated Review must be driven by the existential threats we face as well as realistic foreign policy goals. If money is tight, then it obviously means we can’t be a global policeman. Does this mean we will need to leave Asian security to the USA, Japan, South Korea and Australia? If, instead, we are focused only on threats closer to home, do we become an insignificant player and does that matter? The overwhelming conclusion is that we must decide what we must do to defend our interests and then resource these priorities properly. Yet we must also live within our means. In conclusion, the 2020 will require us to make tough decisions. As we look ahead, we are hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

[1] House of Commons Defence Committee, Shifting the Goalposts? Defence expenditure and the 2% pledge. (2nd Report of Session 2015-2016) Page 4.

[2] COVID-19 in the United Kingdom: Assessing jobs at risk and the impact on people and places, McKinsey & Company, May 2020. 



  1. Good piece as always. I must say though that I think there ARE votes in defence. I suspect Red Wall and long-suffering conservative voters do recognise that the world is dangerous and that the UK is trying to do too much with too little. Let’s put it another way: there certainly are no votes in slashing defence for a small reduction in deficit at a time when overall budgets are being allowed to balloon.

    Thanks again for a great piece of analysis


    1. The govt have already said that they do not intend to respond with this Corona virus with austerity. Certainly from my view our strategic investments should be to expand (or create a new) our ship building capability … in England. We should go for broke and build 2 more carriers! Either deliberately or accidently our strategic role has become maritime centered, and land based, Europe based, efforts have become minor. Unfortunately the army remain obsessed with armoured divisions instead of focussing on its elite forces and ignoring artillery for its more conventional troops.
      Above all, no one is going to fight anywhere without air power.


  2. Good article and hard to see any other conclusion than the UK must sell both aircraft carrriers. Then reinvest the money back into the armed forces.


  3. Unlike 2010 the issue of defence has changed and increased close-by Russian servaliance around Britain’s waters and skies means we can no longer accept the old practices of clobbering defence budgets without too much apparent damage? The nerve agent attack in Salisbury also changed the threat level. This was no low key attempt to murder two individuals, it could have killed thousands. The UK, post-Brexit, needs the instruments of defence more than ever to project its power and protect vital trade routes. Anyone who doubts these routes are not in danger of being compromised is deluded. All arms of the UK forces will be needed to support trade/security deals around the Third World, and possibly more so than current deployments? The contribution to NATO will not reduce but is far more likely to be expanded, as key adversaries step up their military activities.


  4. I fine piece but I’d disagree with your conclusion and say Asia should be the focus, just because of the kind of people we are and the kind of things we do.

    We seem to have a propensity for getting into trouble and if the Americans and Australians get into a fight then it’s a fight we’re probably going to be in.
    Don’t say Vietnam!

    If the army is forced to think in terms of Pacific deployment, it may finally take the radical steps it needs to take for operational reasons rather budgetary ones, something it may have more success in grappling with.
    The result could be a lighter, cheaper force that would be an adjunct in a European theatre.
    I’m not saying we should send the army to China, I’m saying tell the army it might have to get to China and to plan accordingly.
    Plan for China, go to Africa might be a variation on train hard fight easy.

    With China ascending European defence is – in PR terms – a backwater, The Pacific represents the kind of high profile, high risk, high reward problem we’re somehow attracted to.
    Europe is done, we’re in that deal and in that fight by virtue of being parked next to it.
    They also have their own direction for defence, why pour money away and hang around in back to no advantage?

    I was pointed toward CANZUK today, whatever the trade agreement we need to show we’re good friends and useful allies.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoyed your article, thank you. We can’t salami slice much further I would offer; we need to make some hard foreign policy choices in the IR.

    As an example, whats the the foreign and defence policy benefit of an occasional ship in the ‘Far East’ vs more persistent and larger presence Wet of Suez or West of the Persian Gulf? Does Brunei actually need defending in the 2020’s? These are foreign policy led with defence implications. Linked to these choices on space is scale: Either we’re doing divisional scale on land or we’re not – decide, not fudge.

    The era of Cake and Eat it (bit not paying the price in the shop) are over.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ‘instituting regime change in certain situations’

    Utter these words to the general public or state it as a role of the armed forces and you can kiss good bye to any support of the defence budget over any other department.


    1. I mention regime change, because I think this is exactly the type of overseas adventure that UK foreign policy should avoid. When you remove a government by force, inevitably you leave a void – look at Iraq and the long-term impact of installing the Shah in Iran. Regime change in China, in Russia, in Iran and North Korea may be a good thing, but would be extremely difficult to achieve. if we got involved in a conflict with anyone of these actors, it would be an end goal.


      1. Why would it need to be an end goal?

        The end goal of Op Granby or the interventions in both Bosnia and Kosovo were not regime change and all three achieved their aims.

        A contained and weakened North Korea, Russia and China would still be a win for the west regardless of who sat on the throne.

        It’s better to leave a regime in place that knows it’s been defeated.


  7. A good point:
    “For all these reasons, the Integrated Review must be driven by the existential threats we face as well as foreign policy goals. If money is tight, then it obviously means we can’t be a global policeman. ”

    However much I zoom the piccie above the statement, I can’t get it readable
    – perhaps the deterrence (top) part of it could be added in as a separate graphic?
    – being the ‘bit’ that backs up the quoted statement


    1. Deterrence:
      1. Nuclear – RN Dreadnought Ballistic Missile submarines
      2. Air defence of UK airspace – Typhoon, E7 Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft
      3. North Atlantic Security / Defence of UK waters – RN SSN, FF, and RAF P8 Poseidon MPA
      4. Enhanced Forward Presence (in the Baltic States) – Army Battle Group (Strike Brigades in Future)


      1. Yes. The basic is nuclear deterrence… And these days at can be stealth aircraft. But inaditionally maritime surveillance (and action) aircraft as well… these look increasingly valuable and versatile.


      2. The article is excellent and timely. Thank you.

        Two aspects worth further consideration might be:

        1. RAF P8 Poseidon (until SDSR 2010 Nimrod MR2) have a crucial national role in UK SSBN CASD operations.

        2. The Integrated Review must establish the UK’s Strategic position. A Global deployable role for HM Forces [including reinforcement of NATO] points up major deficiencies in Logistic Enablers, especially for Army Armour if rapid mobility en mass is to be achieved.


  8. Some thoughts:

    1. HMG posturing on “global Britain” does not stand up to scrutiny. We have no role in the Pacific, the new Aussie strategic defence paper does not even mention the UK (sorry CaptNemo). Naval deployments to Indian Ocean probably as far as we need to go.

    2. Australia is showing the way with how to conduct a well thought out and clearly articulated defence review.

    3. Post-Brexit / Post-COVID spending. France has noted that it will increase defence spending as a way to invest in its domestic firms and capabilities as part of its COVID response, although apparently so far that has resulted in small orders for extra helicopters. UK could be doing the same thing. MRV-P could be pulled back from US FMS purchase of JLTV and go to Supacat or GDELS in Merthyr Tdyfl perhaps. Ship building is one thing we can do, and the Solid Stores Support ships need to be pushed into production. Add a sixth T31 and a sixth River BII – yes these cost money that HMG thinks it doesn’t have, but austerity spending is not the way to improve a post-Brexit/Post-COVID economy. I also realize you cannot spend your way out of recession (although actually some economists to present this a realistic approach) but this is not actually talking about huge sums. We are massively in need a of a rotary ring UAV, so why not do a deal with Leonardo to get HERO production going at Westlands.

    4. Nuclear Deterrent – if you cannot afford a conventional deterrent, and you cannot contain the costs of SSBN development, then you cannot afford a nuclear deterrent, at least in the form it remains in today. If you want to be a nuclear power because we think it brings some sort of influence power (UNSC and all that) then buy French supersonic nuclear missiles for the Typhoon and scrap the stupidly expensive SSBN / SLBM force.


    1. Well, they wouldn’t mention it because we’re not facing that way, no point talking to the back of our head.
      My thinking is this (and I know you agree because you’ve written it), that Germany should basically have an armoured corps sat on the scales to counterbalance Russia allowing us to go lighter.
      With the exception of France Europeans have no interest in expeditionary warfare and that’s a place we’re happy to be.
      Tasking the army with putting a division in the Pacific makes it ask itself the questions the USMC is asking itself and hopefully they reach the same conclusions, nothing big, nothing heavy, nothing expensive, but (it being the USMC) still something that will win.
      The problems you present simply by asking the question would cause such a paradigm shift that we could then put a corps in Europe in short order.
      I think.


      Shall I take this?
      No, no, might need it.
      Shall I take that?
      No, no, been in the family for years.
      What about these, what these do, should I take these?
      No, oh no, they’re very special.
      Um, shall I just take 20% of everything?


      1. But Capt.Nemo – we are not the US, and so asking the same questions does not in fact elicit a thoughtful response, instead it gets a “are you on drugs?” type of response.

        We can barely afford NATO European forward presence battle groups, so why would we fool ourselves that we need to be messing in the Pacific? ASEAN countries are the natural grouping to confront aggressive Chinese policies in what is arguably their own potential sphere of influence, the UK should not waste money playing at “Global Super Power”. Where we can have impact on negating Chinese influence, with both soft (and if necessary) hard power is Africa, where we actually have allies with whom we have agreements.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jed. So nothing changes, again. We take a cut across the board and delude ourselves we have full spectrum capabilities.
        I’m not deluding myself we’re a global superpower (but we are a global power), I’m saying the Pacific’s likely where the fight is and if we ask questions about how to fight there then we impose constructive changes on the army which it is unwilling to impose on itself and ones which will develop its way of fighting, an extension of this strike ethos if you like. Rather this than the absolute obsession with sending an armoured brigade to the Baltic which completely breaks the back of the army budget, serves little deterrent value and would likely be dead within a week, I’d hazard we could do global light infantry cheaper and better and send it to Europe in industrial numbers.
        To be honest, Hitler precedents aside, If 500 million Europeans can’t be bothered to keep Ivan out of Tallinn, why the hell should I care? I’m still waiting on a thank you from the French for last time. The Norwegians send York a Christmas tree, I swear it gets smaller every year.
        Exactly which ASEAN countries can stand up to China, we’re talking about America, we’re to sit by if it goes hot for the the US and the Aussies? What about Canada, am I helping Canada, it’s pretty far.


  9. Well the usual depressing set of briefing and counter briefing has begun. We have General Carter indicating the Army wants the RN to downgrade the RM and loose the amphibious ships, we have either RN or RAF briefing the Army should be cut to 60,000 and have no Tanks, the RN/Army brief that the RAF should be happy with 78 F35’s and only the 48 F35B’s, and less than planned/needed Typhoons.
    When will the heads of the various armed forces learn that fighting like cats amongst themselves only rewards the likes of Dominic Cummins, They will all loose capacity but not responsibilities. They will be asked to the same with even less despite any sane man knowing that is impossible. They must remember in BJ and his Dom they are dealing with people who will rewrite history to spread blame anywhere other than themselves. BJ will then stand up in the House of Commons wrap himself in the flag and how the Conservatives are the party of the Armed Forces.
    The fundamental issue at the Heart of the last 2 SDR’s and this one is nobody wishes to inform the emperor has no cloths. Whilst the Government wishes to be “Global Britain” the public scream randomly picking causes “something must be done” whilst the Foreign Office wants “Smart Solutions” but nobody wants to pay for the “Something” to be possible. Until the military are prepared to present a united front and learn to say we can do A/B/C with those funds but not D/E/F/G/H/J on those funds.
    No more turning up in locations and needing 8×8 type vehicles and doing it with a Land Rover. The Armed forces need to asses whats possible and say politely no. We can all accept cuts and cutting your cloth to your means, But it is important that this is balanced with the acceptance of reduced standing in the world, less reach and less influence.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I do have to say that the defence chiefs seem more interested in fighting amongst themselves rather than the enemy. And I can’t help thinking that the Army are more interested in fighting amongst itself. Ajax, Boxer, Artillery??? Does it know what it wants?


  10. The whole problem is we haven’t decided what position we are in the world and where we want to be, what we need to contribute to achieve this and how much that costs, without this strategy is non existent and everything boils down to what we want to pay/can afford in the short term and the whims of the 4/5 year government in charge at the time.

    As well as this to some extent we think because we’re British we are automatically entitled to a position in the world due to history and this is almost as daft as saying Italy should be the lead power because of the roman empire. Recent history will fade and it will boil down to what we can do, what we contribute to particularly the US coalitions, but also to other allies and trading partners and not what we did at some point in history sooner or later.

    Politicians convince themselves that somehow their magical skills plus this fact are what decides this and they believe that chucking money at people and talking nicely to them brings influence. Reality is they’re told what they want to hear and then the country in question discusses their best interests & the minimum diplomatic cost they can get away with.

    Therefore they believe that defence can be done on the cheap when it can’t. Soon the only thing keeping us strategically relevant will be something we never want to use.

    The noises from the other side of the Atlantic should be listened to.
    The belief that soft power is more important than what we can and will do for our trading partners & Allies is IMO as deluded as the politicians that think their personality and skills will ultimately decide trade deals and alliances.


  11. Capt Nemo

    So you say ” I’m saying the Pacific’s likely where the fight is and if we ask questions about how to fight there then we impose constructive changes on the army which it is unwilling to impose on itself and ones which will develop its way of fighting, an extension of this strike ethos if you like. ”

    You think sending a Light Infantry capability to the Pacific, is the requirement against which we should design and equip our Army. So does that include withdrawing from NATO because the Norwegian Christmas Tree is too small, or are we just reducing our commitment to Article 5 response?

    and “Rather this than the absolute obsession with sending an armoured brigade to the Baltic which completely breaks the back of the army budget, serves little deterrent value and would likely be dead within a week” – well actually if we thought about it a little more coherently it would not be breaking the bank, that is the problem. Instead you want the budget to fill what, 4 Points, 3 Bays and 2 Albions (and a bunch of ferries STUFT) , with every ship and sub in the RN into the Pacific to fight the Chinese. I think you read too much SNAFU blog. Just what would this expeditionary brigade (large size light infantry brigade?) bring to the party that the entire USN / USMC / USAF / US Army would find useful or interesting. Who do we rely on for logistics support once there – US or Auz ?

    I am all for completely killing some capabilities in order to focus on others, absolutely not good with the status quo of salami slicing – death by a thousand cuts!

    What I am saying is I don’t understand how your Pacific fantasy is helpful in modelling a force posture and design that would actually be useful in the real world.


    1. Our focus and overcommitted funds are misapplied to a European theatre, a theatre which could be ably defended by a number of first world countries who have no interest in operating outside of Europe.

      Far from addressing its budget problems the army is just adding to the pile by taking boxer ‘as well as’, four brigades of heavy metal in case two might need to go dig Russians out is unsustainable.
      ND’s tuxedo analogy is funny and all but kind of problematic if you spend the rest of the time in your pants.

      UK power isn’t just about keeping the peace, it’s a status issue, crude but true.
      HMG gains nothing from armour rusting for twenty years, it’s a bad return on investment.

      The US pivot to Asia leaves the European theatre as yesterdays news, it would be non news if Putin’s nationalist antics hadn’t given the excited possibility of a Cold War 2.0, a war which is in fact unfolding in The Pacific as China increasingly gains pariah status. Attempting to turn half of China middle class will see a rapacious demand for resources and they’ve already built bridges (both physical and metaphorical) as far as Africa to ensure same, the possible flashpoints are myriad. China is basically an adolescent at this point, happily one who hasn’t learned how to fight yet, but powerful and hungry; treating that as a lesser threat than Russia is just interesting.

      During the 80’s the US threw around a high technology light division of (iirc)10.200 men, it was designed to fit in 1000 C141B sorties, it would use high lethality and mobility to survive.
      There’s a book on its support structure, you can buy it on amazon for £155.
      Thinking you see, always thinking.

      In answering the Pacific question the army would have to address what it was going to fight with, how it was going to fight and how it was going to support that fight in equal measure.
      You’d expect them to embrace lighter platforms and ruthless standardisation to reduce the logistical burden at distance, you’d also expect them to figure out how to win with it, as per the strike thing.
      So, you kind of missed my point, if in answering the question they can convince themselves how to fight cheaper, lighter. smarter and better supported and apply that army wide then a corps goes to Estonia, in support of European armour.

      It’s also an actual question, what are you going to do if Americans and Australians start dying in the Pacific?

      I realise you wanted to forward deploy a recce regiment to Poland and I’m sorry and yes the tree was smaller again this year.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. @ Capt Nemo

    Whatever we need to fight in Europe is exactly what we will need to fight the Chinese.

    So Strike and armour is more pertinent than light infantry. Especially the way the UK does light infantry, the retention of which is what has gotten us into some of the mess we are in when it comes to modernising some of our other capabilities.


    1. I was using light infantry as short hand, whatever the army found to be well balanced and which didn’t need a full service every 300km, I would expect it to be lighter and our light infantry are supposedly the best in the world.

      I’m kind of tempted to call it Mobile Infantry…


      1. Our Infantry are good in general, but the UK light infantry are mostly immobile non mechanised units because they are cheap when they are set up that way.

        Take a look at how many infantry units the UK has that are mechanised in some way (armoured, strike and protected) compared to the rest.

        It’s pitiful to be honest and that does not include the CS and CSS units that don’t exist to support them.

        Mobile Infantry you say, sounds a lot like mechanised ie strike to me.


    2. DN, it was a simple question to a complex problem that I hoped would yield creative results. It was basically the tracks vs wheels argument against the current backdrop of an overstretched and overspending army again being asked to find efficiencies, on top of a strategic review, on top of a redefining moment for British foreign policy, on top of US demands for NATO partners to meet their commitments, on top of a US shift of focus.

      My problem is that light infantry problem, that the majority of resources go to heavy when that’s the least likely thing we’ll use and others can cover that base.
      My hope would be that strike experimentation will yield results pointing to a light-medium expeditionary posture whose time has come and one which can satisfy all our current and possible future commitments and which we can apply to the whole army within budget.
      You look at USMC, always thinking, always experimenting, always reinventing, always looking after their dollar and ready to take a 4×4 and an 8×8 and fight whoever you want them to fight anywhere on Earth.


      1. CN

        The USMC has a specific job within the US armed forces and is also backed up by a very large and capable air force coupled with numerous carrier groups plus a large mechanised army with it’s own limited amphibious capability, thats why they can ditch their tanks and massively cut their tube artillery.

        We have had an expitionary posture since about 1992 and you could probably argue for hundreds of years, we are an island literaly everything we do is expiditionary. The medium force you speak of was on the cards since the mid 90’s it’s nothing new in concept although FRES had a much more coherant vehicle and capability plan than our current strike set up.

        The problem is not that we spend too much on heavy armour, our future plan for heavy armour leaves us with 2 brigades which is probably about right (give or take) it’s the number of unsupported light infantry that we are paying for that is the problem.

        Every modern NATO army that decided to ditch heavy armour has reversed the decision after some real world experience and facts struck them in the face. Belgium has no tanks but then again they do not have every one else’s recent operational experience either.

        If the aussies wanted something from us in the pacific I think they would rather our logs and engineering capability (which we seem to constantly cut in favour of light infantry) over a few light infantry btn’s.


      2. DN, I’m not unfamiliar with the context, I’m just not presenting an academic paper.

        USMC operates in the same battlespace but is comfortable in its acceptance of higher individual risk weighed, as you say, against its support structure. The British approach is largely a self fulfilling prophecy as it destroys its potential for a support structure in the pursuit of limited high profile programmes.
        British army ops must also be seen within a wider context, that of the whole forces and then probably within a wider one than that, I am after all suggesting that Europe does tanks.

        You say the spend on armour is not a problem but that it is a problem; I understand the contradiction, you mean it’s just adequate for the role we’ve assigned ourselves, sparing even.
        We have (I think) four heavies now, by weight and cost Boxer/Ajax rank heavy in everything but role, through life support costs make these £10m items.
        I was an advocate of armour and argued for it on TD’s website a while back, but I was wrong, the numbers just don’t stack well.
        Ajax is I think a £6bn programme, even accepting £2bn in sunk costs you could fund a mechanised programme to rival Scorpion.
        Warrior and Challenger seem like a bargain in upgrade but their future replacement using Ajax figures as a benchmark in todays figures suggests no end to the army’s problems and the treasury wants savings now, right this minute.

        Lowering your unit price point and protected average to somewhere between MRVP and Boxer, would that homogenized whole with triple the mechanized mass beat what we’ve got?
        Might it even be greater than the sum of its parts?

        I don’t think the definition of expeditionary warfare is ‘lives on an island’, it’s fighting abroad and to fight abroad you need to go there.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Addendum.

        In fairness I will accept ‘overseas’ being used as a synonym for abroad.


  13. CN

    I’ll address each point in turn.

    ‘The British approach is largely a self fulfilling prophecy as it destroys its potential for a support structure in the pursuit of limited high profile programmes.’

    The British army struggles due to it’s fixation with light infantry and other internal and external politics coupled wich constantly create knock on affects to equipment programmes.

    ‘British army ops must also be seen within a wider context, that of the whole forces and then probably within a wider one than that, I am after all suggesting that Europe does tanks.’

    I agree which is why the retention of some heavy armour is still required so we can carry out independant combined arms maneuver against a peer/near peer adversary.

    Off shoring your heavy armour requirement to another nation is folly. The only guaranteed way of making sure we have the capability is to supply it ourselves.

    ‘You say the spend on armour is not a problem but that it is a problem; I understand the contradiction’

    I don’t contradict myself, I implied that we do not spend a disproportionate amount on heavy armour but that we spend a disproprtionate amount on unsupported light infantry.

    ‘Boxer/Ajax rank heavy in everything but role, through life support costs make these £10m items.’

    Boxer is heavy in weight only, in all other aspects it is in the medium cat (especially in the logistics department) and it’s through life costs will be significantly lower than Ajax.

    ‘Warrior and Challenger seem like a bargain in upgrade’

    There are only two choices with Challenger either upgrade or replace neither of which is a cheap option so we are we are with that one. The warrior upgrade is slightly different but is still at the moment cheaper than Ajax. If further problems persist then we could always cancel the turret and use the same RWS that we will fit on Boxer and use Warrior as a heavy APC, but then I refer you back to my first point.

    The real problem is that Ajax was the wrong vehicle to prioritise over MIV and MRVP and is skewing the equipment budget.

    ‘I don’t think the definition of expeditionary warfare is ‘lives on an island’, it’s fighting abroad and to fight abroad you need to go there.’

    I was alluding to the fact that we are expeditionary by default. Even to contemplate going anywhere local we have the logistical problem of crossing a deep 20 odd mile stretch of water to consider plus the onward journey.

    We have a logistical expiditionary mindset engrained which is why our logistic capability is far greater than some other high ranking militaries.


    1. Sorry (ND must be thinking oh God make it stop), but a tank war must be the the thing we’re least likely to do alone, so comes under nice to have if you can’t afford anything else.
      Boxer’s lumped with a tracked recce asset meant for armour and offers equivalent if not superior protection to Warrior, I’d therefor ask you to consider our having bought four heavy brigades.
      The cost for Australia’s 211 Boxer (of which 133 will be turreted) with 30 years support is £9.5bn.
      The French in their Wisdom (and as I’m sure you know) consider this batshit crazy and put their VBCI in armour so they can buy other stuff with money they have left, because adding and subtracting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Captain Nemo,

        Don’t apologise! Your input is great and always welcome No one has a monopoly on clever thinking, even those who work within the Armed Forces or Industry. Fresh ideas from people who are not too close to the process can only be a good thing.


        Good points as well.

        In response to both of you and to Jed, here’s what I think.

        Boxer is an excellent capability and potentially we could build a war fighting division around it. But, it really cannot do everything. I would be worried about cross-country performance across marshland in Northern Europe in Winter. And, this is a likely deployment scenario.

        So, what are the alternatives?

        I would generate the two Strike Brigades as planned, but make sure they are properly resourced. This means two Boxer-equipped Mechanised Infantry battalions plus two Boxer-equipped Reconnaissance regiments. If we had the money, I’d put an un-crewed (remote control) 30×173 mm cannon in turret with twin ATGM (either MMP or Spike ER). I would equip Reconnaissance regiments a crewed 35×228 mm cannon turret (also with MMP or Spike ER.) The crucial difference between infantry and reconnaissance units would be optics/ sensors. I’d ensure that mechanised infantry battalions had nine 120 mm mortar tubes for organic indirect fire support, while reconnaissance regiments would have an overwatch squadron with Brimstone or some other suitable BLOS ATGM. Each Brigade would also be supported by a wheeled L/52 155 mm howitzer. At divisional level, I’d equip artillery regiments G/MLRS rockets and PrSM missiles (HIMARS) mounted on MAN SX. I would additionally integrate a long-range precision fires missile based on SPEAR able to be fired from G/MLRS pods. I would add an air defence cannon to Starstreak HVM batteries. My pick would be Rheinmetall-Oerlikon Revolver Mk3 35×228 mm cannon. Further, I would support artillery assets with an artillery / drone hunting radar system (Latest Arthur/ Giraffe 1a). Finally, the Division would provide UAS support for ISTAR tasks, plus Sky Sabre (Land Ceptor / CAMM ER) medium-range ground based air defence system.

        This gives you two brigades that would deliver a highly credible Reconnaissance Strike capability against any near-peer adversary. The brigades would also have utility in counter insurgency / medium intensity scenarios.

        I would complement the two Strike Brigades with two additional Armoured Infantry brigades based on Ajax. The organisation would be similar to the Strike Brigades with two Armoured Infantry battalions in Ares APC plus two reconnaissance regiments in the Ajax CRV. As with Boxer, I would equip Ares with a un-crewed 30×173 mm turret. (It would be relatively straightforward to reconfigure Ares to accommodate a crew of 2 plus 7 dismounts for a total of 9.) For the two Ajax reconnaissance regiments, I would replace the 40 mm CT turret with the Lance crewed turret with a 35×228 mm cannon plus twin ATGM (again, either MMP or SPIKE ER). In effect the two armoured infantry brigades would also be Reconnaissance Strike brigades.

        We could achieve this configuration simply by adjusting the existing vehicle mix for the Ajax programme. Adopting the proven 30×173 mm and 35×228 mm turrets (e.g. Puma, Lance, CMI, and Kongsberg MCT30) could actually de-risk the programme. 30×173 mm turrets have a further benefit of reducing vehicle weight, which is never a bad thing.

        I would cancel Warrior CSP. I would bin CT40. Sorry Lockheed-martin – I know you hate me for suggesting this, but I think it is the right thing to do at this stage.

        But I wouldn’t get rid of MBTs. Every country that has done so has regretted it. Canada, Holland and others are re-acquiring tanks if they haven’t done so already. With 70,000 tanks in service worldwide, including 30,000+ belonging to potential adversaries, MBTs remain a force multiplier. For this reason, I don’t think the UK can be a credible Tier 1 Army without MBTs. So, I would retain four tank regiments.

        Each brigade would be an independent formation for Reconnaissance Strike, but when you add an MBT regiment to any one of them, it becomes an Armoured Infantry formation. To make this work, you have to upgrade Challenger’s powerpack so it is more agile. You also have to reduce overall weight.

        I would support the four primary brigades with two additional Light role brigades. Each would have four infantry battalions. One would be a high readiness, high mobility brigade equipped with BVS10. The other would be high readiness, high mobility brigade equipped with MRVP.

        This gives you six deployable brigades with 10 regular cavalry regiments (with either MBTs or CRVs) plus 16 regular infantry battalions. All would be equipped with vehicles that are already in service or already budgeted for, all with the exception of a Boxer reconnaissance platform, which would require 88 additional platforms.

        You would also have 16 Air Assault Brigade, the SFSG, eight other light role battalions plus five Permanently Committed battalions (Cyprus, Brunei, and Public Duties) for a total of 32 battalions.

        I believe the force structure I’ve proposed, with two heavy, two medium, two light, plus an air assault brigade, would be flexible, affordable, but, above all credible.

        What I propose gives 16 infantry battalions out of 32 protracted mobility. This is not enough. I would look to acquire a further four sets of protected mobility platforms so that 20 battalions had suitable vehicles instead of unprotected Land-Rovers and MAN SX trucks.

        Thoughts, please.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. CN

        No apology needed, and yes a tank war such as with a peer enemy is definately one that we would not fight alone but is also one that would require the greater amount of resources from our allies as well.

        This means that there is no spare capacity available from our allies to give us, as they would be using their armour to support their own formations.

        Combined arms maneuver is also a complicated war to fight so it is not just a case of getting a squadron of Greek tanks and being capable of working effectively if at all. It only works if you set up a joint formation in the same way that the Germans and Dutch have done so that you can train together on a regular basis but this will still require us to finance our part of the formation, plus all the political stuff that comes with it, such as where it will be used etc.

        I would argue that we can afford the planned numbers but we choose not to or have squandered the money else where.

        I’m sorry I won’t consider Strike to be a heavy formation as it is not set up to be in a number of ways. It is however hobbled by having a medium weight vehicle with a heavy logistics burden (mostly in strategic terms).

        The Australians are not just buying Boxer they are investing in the capability to domestically produce and maintain modern military vehicles, so I don’t know if that is a like for like comparison. Or is the money for the factory’s etc a seperate budget?

        The VBCI is a tracks vs wheels debate 😉


      3. ND, my position is that the four brigades are all heavy by cost and I would observe that two gets you one.
        Cutting to three multirole is more efficient, admittedly we lose a little as we could only sustain one for an open ended deployment but we could push two for a short high intensity conflict, as for Russia, but that’s a comfortable rotation for us.

        Then it’s just a sliding scale of acceptable in a tracks vs wheels argument.

        Probably the most acceptable to all sides would be a brigade akin to Strike, with Challenger as an add on by role as you suggest.
        I’ll admit we don’t initially save very much, Warrior cut and Ajax reduced would only cover additional Boxers, it’s mostly a standardization effort for the sake of our sanity and would spare us replacing Warrior down the road.

        So for the wholly unacceptable, three all arms Boxer brigades by cancelling Ajax, Challenger, Warrior and Chinook (wait what)?
        Merged Ajax/MRVP funds for a UK Scorpion programme.
        Warrior and stolen RAF money for Boxer.

        I tried to cost everything and I was short of money, stealing the £3bn the RAF wants to lavish on sixteen SF Chinooks and pushing the programme to the right lands it somewhere around medium lift replacement in the early 30’s at which point they can buy tiltrotor, which I’d argue is a win win.

        Tanks to become an exotic capability in the hands of RTR and in relatively low numbers.

        I was just wondering whether MIV and MRVP could co-exist in brigades with something like Fire Weaver to supercharge the whole affair.
        Curious how the USMC and the French feel about it.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. “Boxer is heavy in weight only, in all other aspects it is in the medium cat (especially in the logistics department) and it’s through life costs will be significantly lower than Ajax.” You must be kidding, Boxer is very expensive, built by and for a nation which doesn’t have any nuclear deterrence duties (or charges), and only very happy to export. Why do we still chose military capabilities as if we were chosing a car paid by taxpayer’s money ? The result is we always chose a ferrari even when another car would do just as well for much less. In civvy street we don’t need ammo, Ferrri is possible, in military matters it is different.


    3. To be fair I don’t think the Army has fetishized “Light Infantry” it’s that since the wall came down and we shut down BAOR and removed the venerable Saxon battle taxi from the orbit we have had:

      1. HMG constantly cutting budget, every time
      2. Army command wrapped up in FRES UV /FRES Scout / OUVS / MRV-P / MIV – requirements debacles followed by procurement debacles, fuelled by…… funding cuts…..
      3. Cap badge politics ? Better to save 3 regiments than bin them and provide rides for them thats left?
      4. UOR’s – largely due to 1 and 2 above, now add Mastiff, Ridgeback, Wolfhound, Jackal, Coyote, Husky and Foxhound !

      So I honestly don’t think the Army thinks light infantry are great, we just cannot afford to equip them as any thing else 😦


    4. Well put, i think. The army have i think sneaked in and tried to steal the cake… in the same way the navy grabbed the carriers (admittedly Blair and Brown strung them along for years before ordering them). Ajax and Boxer will both end up with being a dogs breakfast with neither properly implemented. This is the Generals problem, not political.


  14. CN

    I think the Lithuanian order would give a better understanding of the price tag as they just buying the vehicles and support.

    I don’t know the figures for the Lithuanian order off the top of my head but all modern military vehicles are getting expensive, even something as simple as Mastiff comes with a healthy price tag.


  15. UK Land Power

    This comment just sums up the problems we have,

    ’16 infantry battalions out of 32 protracted mobility’

    Plus the number of btn’s that are incapable of maneuver warfare in any sense due to being unsupported (even light brigades need to maneuver).

    If we want more air defence and artillery etc we need to shift manpower from any unsupported infantry to the CS and CSS units.

    I think the yard stick that the Army measures it self against is deployable all arms battlegroups and not divisions.

    If we did this then maybe we would get a coherant and balanced force that would make an adversary worry.


    1. Yes. If cap badges are the problem then I suggest battalions are made smaller (by25%) and we developed a grouping of say 4-5 of them as integrated ‘brigades’. Brigades that ‘fit’ the cap badges. I’m not saying they would all be active in the brigade at the same time, just even 2, the others in reserve or rest. In any event the cab badges remain, or even increase, with the organisational unit bei g the all arms tactical ‘brigade


      1. Trev

        Oh hell no, our Battalions are already smaller than just about anyone else’s – Yes I know we split into Companies to create task oriented battle groups, but our Companies are smaller too. So what does reducing by 25% and then increasing the number of sub-units provide in the way of advantages, because I am not getting it?

        How about a Corps of Infantry with 3 Regiments based on role – Light Infantry (9 Battalions), Guards (9 Battalions), The Rifles (9 Battalions) ?

        We have changed our infantry regiment “organizational schema” many times in the past, why not just do it again? The storied and very valuable history of regiments can reside in museums and could be carried on by the battalions within an “uber regiment” but altering brigade structures to fit the number of cap badges seems insane……


  16. Here is another opinion on the current SDSR.

    ‘Global Britain’ is in for a rude awakening
    Post-Brexit, the UK will be a second-rate military power with no place on the world stage


    ‘Instead, the UK will commit a greater share of the defence budget to managing threats to cyber-security and in space, essentially leapfrogging the known and rapidly increasing risks of war between states to face the nebulous hybrid threats of the future.’

    Worth a quick read wether you agree or not.


  17. Probably just time to admit that the British Army is only really equipped to defend the UK and that providing any meaningful force to fight in mainland Europe is now beyond us.

    The UK could then downsize the army to a purely medium weight force and instead concentrate on air and sea power, which because of geographical location would be the natural way to support and contribute to NATO.

    Far too sensible an option to ever happen of course…


    1. Agreed.
      In any future conflict, it would make much more sense for Britain to act with its naval and airforce capacity rather than a land force component, especially given our geo-political location.
      Keep the royal marines and the paras for small, hard-hit incursions.

      Keep a rapid deployment division and light motorised brigades for some flexibility. Get rid of heavy armour and most medium armour and focus on highly manoeuvrable, independent units of light armour.

      The budget is too small to keep pretending that all branches of our armed forces are world-leading, it’s about time we focused on maritime and air power rather than land power.
      If needs be, tanks can be built in a few weeks, a ship will take years.


    2. Agreed.
      It would be a national embarrassment to have to let go of our heavy armour capability but with more budget cuts looming it seems as if this is the only thing we can do.

      We could create light and agile wheeled tank destroyers like the Italians or French – that are much cheaper to build and maintain compared to MBT.
      keep a rapid deployment brigade, the marines, the paras, a helicopter airborne regiment and some light infantry, giving the latter more motorized equipment (like the boxer) to be more manoeuvrable, faster, independent units favouring ‘hit and run’ tactics.
      create a scheme for soldiers to try their hand in the navy or airforce if they so wish – to increase the personnel in those branches.

      Given the geo-political nature of the UK, it makes much more sense to guard the waters and skies rather than engage in land combat. Bolstering the Navy and airforce at the expense of the army isn’t something anyone wants, but given the situation, we don’t have too many choices.

      Another way to look at this is saying that the challenger – whilst not the best of the bunch – still holds up well enough. In a confrontation against, let us say Russia, the chally 2 will still be victorious against most of their tanks, although not to the same degree as others (like the 2A6).


  18. Any cut in our military capacity will completely negate us as a significant military power, and frankly if we can’t deploy a war fighting division why both pretending to be a major player. Although I don’t necessarily think cuts our expected. Defence has become increasingly more prevalent in the public spear, doris is historically a critic of austerity, and I also envision him being a new deal type of leader. While cyber warfare is crucial this can be left to GCHQ and other none mod security services, not to mention I don’t believe Cummings is on the defence review panel.


  19. I’m not sure it’s appropriate to lump together our commitments to BOTs and the commonwealth. The latter doesn’t come with defence commitments. This is an important distinction because defending BOTs like the Falklands requires a force structure that has to have a maritime focus. Commonwealth entanglements are optional and would require a more balanced force structure.

    Also, it only looks at article five from the perspective of duties and not rights. We also have the right to a collective defence which means we don’t have to afford full spectrum capabilities or depth in all domains. In fact it permits burden sharing and means when it comes to threats we can contribute depth in areas of strength rather than superficiality in every domain.

    Finally there are some obvious capabilities that provide utility for many responsibilities and some which don’t.


  20. Hello Mr. Drummond , I would need someone with experience in the field to review a survivability report concerning a certain armored weapons platform. It is not quite ready yet but once it is ready I would need a review. Would you be willing to act as a reviewer?


  21. Hi @UK Land Power. A very informative read once again.

    I’ve a question I’m not too sure if you’ve touched upon; What if trident – and subsequently the UK’s nuclear deterrent – was scrapped?

    I know this will not happen due to the political landscape, however, I do not feel as if the government will be prepared to use nuclear weapons even in a retaliatory response, essentially making them useless.

    1) This money could be spent on more conventional means (ships, aircraft, tanks etc)
    2) ‘Moral’ companies will possibly shortlist the UK for their headquarters – increasing investment
    3) This will set the path for other nations to follow; it’s a good thing to have in the history books – “the first nation to voluntarily give up nuclear weapons”. (Although a few countries had a little kerfuffle with nuclear weapons they weren’t implemented to the same degree as the UK)
    4)The “deterrent” of the UK’s nuclear weapons aren’t all that deterring to our adversaries, With France and America still holding nuclear weapons and being part of NATO there’s no real need for us to also have them. Lots of wars have seen the UK get involved without using nuclear weapons (Falklands, Iraq etc) so what’s the point?
    5)Even if we did use nuclear weapons the fallout that would slowly radiate towards us would damage the country just as much as if we’d been nuked ourselves … no winners only losers.

    I know I’ll get a lot of flak for this but if you have a weapon you have to be prepared to use it. I don’t feel as if any government would have the moral capability to use nuclear weapons, whatever the situation.
    I’m open to your opinions 🙂



    1. For the moment, nuclear weapons remain the ultimate sanction. We have them. Potential adversaries have them. When enemies know you can reliably strike their cities, even if they attack you first, any war ends in mutually assured destruction (MAD). The inevitable outcome of a nuclear exchange is what has kept the peace since August 1945.

      There used to be a sign in Trident SSBN boats that read: “If we fire, we fail.” People who criticise nuclear weapons, because they are expensive and omnipotent weapons, forget that the reason we have them is because we don’t want to use them. The real and terrifying threat they pose gives them an unmatched deterrent effect. For me, any suggestion that we should abandon Trident is a non-starter, because we would be at the mercy of those that still have a nuclear capability. Until 2000, such weapons were exclusively controlled by sane and rational governments. Today, Putin is accountable only to himself and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he might unleash a nuclear weapon to advance his agenda. Would we retaliate and risk starting WW3 because of this? Possibly. But most likely, not. Meanwhile, Iran and North Korea also want to acquire nuclear weapons. Just because we get rid of ours won’t stop rogue states and non-state actors from trying to acquire them.

      If for any reason the UK did decide to retire its nuclear weapons, we would still need to be prepared to defend ourselves against existential threats. This might require us to double or triple the size of our conventional forces to ensure we had sufficient hard power mass to counter a direct attack. This could end-up being considerably more expensive than retaining nuclear weapons, but would ultimately be less effective.

      In any future conflict scenario, our conventional forces buy negotiating time before nuclear weapons become a last resort. This is the reason we invest in sea, land and air power. We don’t want the threat of nuclear weapons to be our only bargaining chip. In the Baltic States, for example, NATO’s enhanced forward presence has been criticised as being nothing more than a trip wire. Compared to the large number of Russian troops located nearby, it is definitely a token force. But to attack NATO troops, would be a clear escalation and a risk that Putin may prefer to avoid. In 2014, there were no NATO troops to halt Putin’s annexation and so Crimea was lost. We weren’t going to attack after the fact. Therefore, there is a tension between conventional and nuclear forces. Balancing cost, capability and utility is not easy, but for the moment, my belief is that we are safer with nuclear weapons rather than without them.

      The only thing that might replace nuclear weapons is an alternative weapon of mass destruction that was equally potent, but at a vastly reduced cost. The COVID-19 outbreak shows the potential of biological weapons. If a nation developed a virus with the ability to kill 1 in ten people infected, while simultaneously developing a vaccine to protect its own people, then one country could destroy its enemies without firing a single shot. And there would be no physical damage. (PLEASE NOTE: I AM NOT SAYING THAT COVID-19 IS A BIOLOGICAL WEAPON, MERELY THAT IT SHOWS THE POTENTIAL OF SUCH WMDs). If you know your enemies are developing biological weapons, then you have to do the same. So, if they unleash a biological weapon on you, you will respond in kind. As with nuclear weapons, achieving parity keeps the peace. I just hope that the difficulty and cost of developing biological weapons are too great to justify the effort.


      1. Granted WMD have kept escalations from boiling over between superpowers in the past, but coming forth to the present and future its time for a change. Having WMD because ‘they’ have WMD is deeply flawed and backwards thinking. The advent for a mistake or misinterpreted actions – especially with proxy wars and grey areas of engagement – could back-fire to the point where humanity is destroyed rather than just a regiment. I know what I’d rather pick.

        America and France are both NATO members who are also against our adversaries. Given a nuclear war, they would destroy that nation before we, ourselves, could press the ‘big red button’ (if they blindly went down that route).
        Any other adversary to us would be most likely be minor nations attempting to take BOTs -like the Falklands- in which case our deterrent doesn’t seem to be deterring anyone. And in any case, nations surrounding BOTs don’t have the capacity to invade and hold the territory successfully let alone produce WMD.

        Why would we need to “double or triple the size of our conventional forces to ensure we had sufficient hard power mass to counter a direct attack”? If our nation decides to give up its nuclear capability it doesn’t make a counter-attack any harder then if we did have nuclear weapons. Japan, Germany (if it got its availability rate up) etc all have very powerful and capable militaries with roughly the same expenditure to us, even with their lack of nuclear weapons.

        So given that deterrence doesn’t work against minor nations who recognise that no sane government would use WMD on a 3rd-2nd world nation and that superpowers of the likes of China and Russia are deterred by America and France, there is no need for us to have them. In a world where the grass is greener, there should be no reason for any nation to have WMD – that is what we should be aiming for – no change will occur from repeating history again and again.

        Nuclear weapons are indiscriminate, they’ll kill us just as much as our enemies, Given that most nuclear weapons have north of 100 kilotonnes and all it takes is roughly 800 kilotonnes to start a nuclear winter on a continent, any nuclear standoff of any proportion to the extent you’ve described/implied us needing them for, would end up in the entire continent pretty much destroyed anyway.

        Nuclear weapons shouldn’t be any resort; not a last resort, not a first resort, not even retaliatory. Someone has to take the first step here to break the deadlock. If we deployed nuclear weapons the fallout from such devices would wither all the crops, pollute the water, radiate the atmosphere and we would subsequently see our own population, that of our enemies and innocent civilians, die miserably from starvation, mutation and disease.


  22. i may have misread you, but am I to understand you think that the UK should just dismantle our defences sit back and let others like the USA and France Japan etc to do the fighting and dying for us,, you see, the way I see it, we are what history made us, right or wrongly if we renounce our responsibilities , then why not the USA France and the others do the same, and if they do, then why not the western world, im sure I may be wrong but the world sadly has some very nasty leaders that would, given the chance send us all to hell, so we must step up,

    just my humble opinion.


    1. Reply to Chris… Its not clear to me how this reply thread works and who replies to who, but if you are replying to me, you have misread me.

      I think we should keep our nuclear weapons… until it can be agreeably multilateraly disarmed. (not likely in the foreseeable future. I certainly do not expect France to disarm.

      The point of wider deterrence (conventional) is that, usually with allies but sometimes on our own, we have armed forces that, well…, deter possible enemies from imposing their will on us, interfering with our interests. A failure of deterrence of The Falklands was a case in point. Only a modest level of force would have deterred the Argentinians… but the foreign office mandarins had little interest.


    2. Hi Criss,

      I’m not sure who that comment was aimed for. If it was aimed for me then you have misread me, unfortunately.
      I fully support the military and its operations, what I don’t support is, in my opinion, the waste of money that are weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

      My arguments I make are that they are redundant, the money saved should be used to further our conventional forces (such as frigates, tanks, planes etc), they won’t be used in a conflict and the fact that they are so powerful any significant use of them would create a nuclear winter, killing us in the process.



  23. Well the massive defence cuts predicted by some don’t seem to have happened, I suspect driven by a sober reflection of the threat!

    When’s the next article?


  24. @Nicholas Drummond
    So with spending settlement done do you now feel comfortable enough to predict the IR outcome, for the Army at least?


    1. No. Not yet. According to the Times newspaper, the Army’s Integrated Review proposition has been rejected at least twice by the Government. They will likely submit a new one before Christmas. Options are to preserve current plans unchanged (which is what the Army has tried to do unsuccessfully). Or lose an armoured infantry brigade and reconfigure the remaining ones around different combinations of vehicles. My preferred option would be to go all in on Boxer, MRVP and an MBT, plus a limited number of tracked platforms for extreme terrain ops.


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