STATE OF THE UNION SUMMARY OF BRITISH DEFENCE PRIORITIES

By Nicholas Drummond

Eight months after the Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper were published, this article looks at UK defence as a whole to consider where we are and where we are going. It considers potential gaps and sets an agenda for those responsible for managing and funding Britain’s most important defence capabilities.

CONTENTS

01.  Introduction
02.  Strategic imperatives
03.  Royal Navy
04.  British Army
05.  Royal Air Force
06.  Other areas
07.  Defence export opportunities
08.  Summary

01.  INTRODUCTION

Britain has the world’s six largest economy and the fifth highest defence expenditure. The armed services employ 145,000 personnel, while the defence industry supports around 130,000 jobs. The money we spend on defence is an insurance policy with our security ultimately backed-up by the nuclear deterrent. Possessing nuclear weapons, which we hope never to use and that cost so much, makes them controversial. But they have kept the peace since 1945 and mean we need to spend less on conventional forces. A core issue is, given our nuclear capabilities, what level of conventional forces do we need to maintain? If conventional mass and capabilities fall beyond a certain level, we could find ourselves in a position where our only response to a non-nuclear attack would be to use nuclear weapons.

We spend £40 billion a year on defence or approximately 2% of GDP. About half that money is spent on developing and fielding new capabilities. The rest pays for personnel, infrastructure and equipment support. Given the significant resources allocated to defence and the relative freedom that each service has in choosing how they spend their budget, the need for political oversight is paramount. The perennial question is do we get sufficient value for money from what we spend on defence? Unending requests for additional cash, combined with the three services’ poor record for living within their budgets, and a failure to deliver major programmes on time and within agreed financial limits, were longstanding sources of Government frustration prior to the global financial crisis of 2008. The fact that these concerns remain a problem today means there is continued tension between ministers and service chiefs.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now behind us, there was recognition that we needed to redefine and rebalance UK defence priorities. The goal of the 2021 Integrated Review was therefore to align defence policy with foreign policy. Instead of trying to fulfil multiple commitments to a mediocre standard, the challenge was identify a more focused set of priorities and to resource them properly. The aspiration was to make defence relevant and credible, but also affordable and sustainable going forward. 

The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force have been successful in redefining their areas of focus. However, the Army has strangely struggled define and communicate what it exists to do. Its cause has not been helped by the fact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are generally considered to be strategic failures. The Army likes to blame politicians who it believes failed to provide it with the resources needed to achieve success, but an inability to achieve military objectives that it agreed were realistic prior to the deployment of boots on the ground means it must shoulder some of the blame. A cloud of mismanagement hangs over the Army and to some extent this has eroded confidence and trust in its senior leadership.

Against the above backdrop, the world has become more dangerous and volatile than it has been at any time since the end of the Cold War. Rather than re-equipping Britain’s armed forces so that they are able to respond to new challenges, each service has shrunk considerably in size since 2010. The wholesale renewal of key capabilities has been delayed, deleted or scaled back. Like postponing roof repairs for a house, this has increased the scope of work that needs to be done and inflated the cost of restoring a competitive military advantage.

Looking at Britain’s armed forces together, the glass is half full not half empty. We possess a superb array of defence capabilities. many of which can rightly be considered to set benchmark standards within their category. The Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers and Astute Class nuclear attack submarines exemplify this. The RAF’s Typhoon fighter, A400M transport aircraft and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are best-of-breed aircraft. Missile systems like the Army’s Javelin, Starstreak HVM, Sea / Land Ceptor, and Brimstone deliver decisive firepower. Despite many bright spots, we cannot pretend that there aren’t serious gaps in the United Kingdom’s capacity to provide a timely and effective response to an unexpected crisis. Selecting and supporting our most critical defence priorities requires us to make difficult choices. While we continue to reconfigure our forces around the most essential tasks, we must resist the false assumption that defence offers further scope to reduce government expenditure. In fact, we may have reached a point where we need to ramp-up defence spending to deter evolving threats.

02.  STRATEGIC IMPERATIVES

What are the threats we must counter? The principal concern is China. Its increasingly aggressive pursuit of political and economic hegemony have resulted in a clear shift in its status from partner to potential adversary. Ongoing efforts to reinforce its superpower status through increased military spending, have resulted in a return of greater power competition. This mirrors the Cold War NATO / Soviet Union stand-off that took place from 1949 to 1989; however, the risk posed by China is centred on the Indo-Pacific region, not Europe. While Britain should be mindful of China, it needs to focus on threats closer to home, something reflected by the integrated Review which describes our emerging strategy as a “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific, rather than a complete “pivot.” 

Within Europe, deterring Russia continues to be the key challenge. Its activities below the threshold of conflict demand a response, but this should be based on the effect of hard power, rather than information or proxy warfare. Indeed, allocating scarce resources to “grey zone” activities could not only trigger a confrontation, but dilute the critical mass we need to counter real aggression. The threat to the Baltic States is real as shown by the conflict that continues to play-out in Ukraine. Separately to this, and in response to sanctions, Russia continues to conduct cyber attacks as well as testing UK defences through regular aerial and maritime incursions. Russia’s closeness to China also poses a problem. 

Iran continues to sponsor terrorism and may seek to support the Taliban financially as it exercises greater control over Afghanistan. The threat posed by Iran’s ongoing atomic weapons programme could trigger a regional conflict that might include a nuclear exchange. North Korea also seeks to acquire WMD and perceives the USA to be weaker under Biden than Trump. It could test the USA by overtly threatening South Korea again. The spectre of Islamic extremist terrorism has not gone away. Terror groups continue to operate in the Middle East, Africa and at home. 

Many of the threats we face coalesce in Africa with both Russia and China supplying local armies with military equipment as they seek to wield greater influence and to unlock economic opportunities across this continent. China’s “Belt & Road” strategy seeks to secure access to and control of scarce resources. The risk of coups in lesser developed African countries paves the way for corrupt governments, extremism, civil war and humanitarian crises. Britain’s current mission in Mali is a recognition of the dangers that exist in this region.

The indeterminate success of recent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan suggest that nation-building is no longer a viable tool of foreign policy. Diplomacy and international development programmes may be a better approach. We still need to define the circumstances that would justify discretionary interventions. In any event, we are unlikely to resort to the use of force independently.  The most likely scenario is a deployment in partnership with key NATO allies or under the aegis of the United Nations. We may decide to fight minor wars of choice in future, but these cannot distract us from the need to be prepared to fight wars of national survival. Cold War 2.0 requires us to prepare for high intensity warfare against peer adversaries, rather than low intensity skirmishes against asymmetric enemies.

When it comes to predicting future conflicts, we have a perfect record – we have not been correct once. This means we need a range of flexible capabilities and forces able to respond across multiple scenarios. As post-Brexit Britain looks beyond Europe for trading opportunities, the need to protect national interests internationally implies forces that are expeditionary by design. 

03.  ROYAL NAVY

The Royal Navy has enjoyed a resurgence over the last decade. The commissioning of the two Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers has restored a carrier strike capability second only to that of the US Navy, making us less dependent on overseas powers’ airfields when we need to conduct air strikes at reach. At 65,000 tonnes, the carriers are the largest ships to enter Royal Navy service. With a price tag of £3.5 billion each they are also the most expensive. The size was justified by the need to carry up to 36 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters when in reality we are unlikely to put more than 24 aircraft aboard them. So the question of whether two 45,000-tonne carriers at a lesser cost would have been a better use of tax payers’ money remains pertinent to ensure the Navy lives within its means when it purchases the next new class of warship. A further concern is that the carriers are increasingly vulnerable to hypersonic missiles and drone swarms. Both threats are difficult to defend against. 

Despite the cost of the F-35, there should be no doubt about its performance. The total number to be acquired has yet to be decided, although we have so far committed to 48 airframes. It has been suggested that at least 90 are needed to ensure three squadrons of 12 aircraft per carrier, plus a training squadron and a few spares. If a number close to the original estimated total of 138 can be achieved, this would also help to offset the decline in RAF combat aircraft numbers since both Harrier and Tornado were retired. 

Royal Navy Carrier Strike Group (Image: UK Ministry of Defence)

The carriers are dependent on the Merlin helicopter for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and airborne early warning (AEW&C) tasks. While the Merlin ASW version is hugely capable, there are concerns that the Merlin AEW&C version (called Crowsnest) is not up to the task. As things stand, the Royal Navy’s Merlin Mk 2 fleet is overstretched with a total of 30 aircraft to provide an anti-submarine capability for its carriers, destroyers and frigates. Merlin is expected to remain in service until 2040. Ideally, the airframe would be upgraded and production restarted at a slow rate to increase numbers, replacing Merlins with Merlins.  

The Type 26 City Class and Type 31 Inspiration Class of frigates promise to deliver warships that combine best-in-class capabilities with critical mass. Unfortunately, the first of eight Type 26 ASW frigates will not enter service until 2026. As older frigates start to be retired, we will enter a decade of “frigate risk” forcing us to rely on the older Type 23 frigates until their replacements are ready. 

The six Daring Class of Type 45 destroyers are highly capable air defence warships. Unfortunately, all vessels have been beset by a fundamental engine design problem which has chronically impacted fleet availability. Although a fix has been developed, the PIP upgrade programme has been painfully slow with only one of the six vessels currently deployable. There is an urgent need to understand what is delaying the roll-out. This means we are also entering a period of “destroyer risk,” which will last until the PIP is completed for all ships and the Sea Ceptor air defence missile upgrade is complete. 

The Dreadnought nuclear deterrent (SSBN) renewal programme will replace the Navy’s existing ballistic missile submarines with four new ones. The programme is expected to deliver an assured capability in this area. The Astute Class of seven attack submarine (SSN) programme is ongoing with four boats delivered, one undergoing sea trials, and the two final boats under construction. This will provide the UK with an unmatched capability in this area. However, seven SSNs is not enough to meet our needs. With UK industry operating at full capacity to build the Dreadnought Class of nuclear missile submarines, we are unable to build more attack submarines. Moreover, cost increases during the Astute programme make a larger SSN fleet unrealistic at this time. The AUKUS submarine deal will pave the way for a new class of attack submarine. A larger number of vessels sharing a common design and components will reduce costs. When we replace the Astute Class, we should plan to acquire 8 not 7 boats. Long-term, the Navy will need to invest in underwater unmanned vehicles (UUVs) to offset the reduction in submarine numbers. Whatever the future solution, we should be in no doubt about the importance of the underwater domain.

he Royal Navy’s AW101 Merlin Anti-submarine warfare helicopter is one of the most sophisticated and capable helicopter operated by any navy in this role. (Image: UK Ministry of Defence)

Delays to Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ship programme leave the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) dependent on a single old vessel, but there is not much that can be done to remedy this until the new FSS programme delivers. The Mine Counter-Measures (MCM) fleet also needs to be replaced. It is expected that a new mine-clearance concept incorporating autonomous vessels will be adopted, although some senior naval officers are worried that this may not give us critical mass of ships. Further to this, the existing MCM fleet provides an extra number of hulls for patrol duties that boosts overall surface fleet numbers and thus increases the Navy’s coverage. 

The Future Commando Force and Littoral Response Groups concepts make some sense, but cannot mask the fact we are downgrading the Royal Marines’ amphibious capability. More broadly, there is a concern that the Royal Navy is stretched too thin. It has too many commitments, but too few ships and crews. Commitments in the Indo-Pacific in addition to the Gulf region may be too much, when our main focus must be containing Russia in the Euro-Atlantic / High North. In the event of a serious conflict, the Royal Navy risks being everywhere and nowhere.

04.  BRITISH ARMY

The British Army is in a state of crisis at the moment. Two recent books on Iraq and Afghanistan have severely criticised its post-9/11 performance. Simon Akam’s The Changing of the Guard and Ben Barry’s Blood, Metal and Dust provide different vastly different perspectives of the two conflicts but reach the same conclusions. Both regard the two conflicts as strategic defeats.

British troops in Mali have been deployed as part of a United Nations mission. Bringing security to large swathes of the Sahal, UK forces have patrolled in Jackal vehicles to protect the local population. Though a valuable contribution to an unstable region, it does not reflect the new focus of the Army. (Image: UK Ministry of Defence)

The Army has been fighting a battle to renew itself, but it has constantly changed its mind about where its priorities lie. It is now clear that it must move away from counter-insurgency roles towards countering renewed peer adversary threats. However, it has so far failed to develop a compelling future plan. The Army’s Integrated Review strategy is a train wreck. It was told that its previous aspirations, to field two Strike Brigades and two Armoured infantry Brigades were unaffordable. Consequently, the Warrior IFV capability sustainment programme was cancelled and the fleet will be retired by 2025. The Challenger 2 MBT fleet will be upgraded, but only 148 tanks will be modernised out of 227. To a certain extent, the Boxer MIV programme will offset the loss of Warrior, but if Army wishes to conduct high intensity operations against peer adversaries in northern Europe in winter it will need a fleet of medium tracked platforms including an IFV.

The armies of France, Italy and Germany all possess a minimum of 8 to 10 deployable brigades, with a large proportion being high-end heavy armour formations. If Britain cannot field 5 or 6 deployable brigades with at least two heavy armour brigades, then we really are in big trouble. The belief that heavy armour is redundant needs to be challenged. Potential adversaries are investing substantial resources to build larger MBT and IFV fleets. Britain cannot be an effective coalition partner to our NATO allies without rebuilding in this area. Though heavy tracked vehicles are difficult to deploy and vulnerable to UAVs and loitering munitions, nothing else can provide the mix of firepower, protection and mobility to seize and hold contested territory. 

Part of the Army’s problem is that it has mismanaged some of its modernisation programmes, several of which are late or have failed to deliver. But this isn’t entirely the Army’s fault. The delay in allocating funds for modernisation means that five Category A programmes have needed to run simultaneously. It simply doesn’t have the resources to run so many large acquisitions. A further issue is that industry has let down the Army. The Government’s Independent Projects Authority reported in April 2021 that the new Ajax reconnaissance vehicle was undeliverable due to noise and vibration problems. It has since emerged that 310 soldiers suffered health issues during trials. If Ajax is genuinely undeliverable and needs to be cancelled, an alternative will need to be found. 

If the Army had to fight tonight, it is unlikely that it could deploy a single brigade let alone two to counter peer threats. The only deployable vehicles the Army has at the moment are its “Dogs of War,’ the protected mobility fleet. None of these are ideal for high intensity warfare against peer adversaries.

The Army’s artillery systems also need a fundamental recapitalisation to ensure it can bring a credible weight of fire to any future conflict. It needs a new communications and information system (CIS). However, a further programme to replace its existing Bowman CIS, LEtacCIS / Morpheus, is also in trouble with the contractor needing more time and money to deliver what has already been agreed and paid for. 

The Army’s emerging post-Integrated Review structure lacks mass across all areas with too many different unit types. It appears to be a structure driven more by the budget, than actual UK defence priorities. There is a lack of strategic focus. Instead of dedicated light, medium and heavy brigades, the force risks being configured around the light capabilities we have, not the heavier, more resilient capabilities we need. 

The Army’s contribution to the Defence Command Paper was so poor that a further initiative to reconfigure it was undertaken, Project Embankment. The aim was to make sense of its high level strategy, but months later, the revised Army 2030 plan still hasn’t been published. Instead of focusing on rebuilding a war fighting capability to counter peer adversaries, the Army intends to generate a larger number of special forces units, including a new Ranger Regiment. It is almost as if it has abandoned high end war fighting because it is incapable of managing programmes that would deliver the relevant capabilities.  

Challenges faced by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force can mostly be attributed to a shortage of financial resources, not a failure of strategy. But the Army’s issues appear to be more deep-rooted. It may need reform on the scale of Haldane or Caldwell to restore it. Part of the problem is that non-military audiences readily understand what warships and combat aircraft do. Thus it is easier to justify Royal Navy and RAF deployments. In contrast, Army units are complex and multi-faceted. It is more difficult to deploy and requires more resources to sustain it in the field. Brigades are like orchestras with an array of different units needed to achieve effect. This makes the Army difficult and expensive to use.

There is also a cultural problem. The Army remains hierarchical, bureaucratic and top heavy. Its bloated rank structure is inconsistent with large commercial organisations which use flatter management structures to foster teamwork and leverage specialist expertise. The Army does not encourage dissent or challenge. Correspondingly, it is not good at engaging with the Government to defend its interests. The Army divides responsibility between multiple departments so that there is no direct accountability. Its leaders need to be more like the Government, where cabinet ministers are sacked from top roles, but move to the back benches and continue as MPs, rather than leaving Parliament altogether. During WW2, plenty of brigade, divisional and corps commanders were relieved of command, but still made a useful contribution in lesser roles. 

Ultimately, delayed and failed procurement programmes have led to an abandonment of high-end  capabilities in favour of special operations units. Until the Army recognises the importance of deterrence, mass and high intensity expeditionary warfare, it will lack the credibility it craves, despite performing exceptionally well during the recent evacuation of Kabul.

exhausted British soldiers from 2 Para return home after an exhausting mission to evacuate Kabul after the Taliban unexpectedly seized control of Afghanistan. (Image: UK Ministry of Defence)

05.  ROYAL AIR FORCE

The RAF has a clear sense of its priorities, but it is not without problems. A major concern is the number of frontline Typhoon Squadrons that protect UK airspace. The RAF has 119 Typhoons in active use out of a fleet total of 157 aircraft purchased. According to a National Audi Office assessment, Typhoon development, production and upgrade costs were £22.9 billion, with total programme costs expected to be close to £37 billion, making this the single most expensive UK defence capability after the nuclear deterrent. Some 29 older Tranche 1 Typhoons are expected to be retired by 2025, leading to a final fleet size of 131 aircraft after other Tranche 1 aircraft are upgraded. Additionally, as noted above, Britain has committed to purchasing a total of 48 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. This amounts to an expected future fast jet fleet of just 179 aircraft, the lowest in UK post-war history. 

The purchase of just three instead of five Boeing E-7 Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft to replace the Boeing AWACS fleet is sub-optimal. Similarly, acquiring only nine P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) instead of 12 or 14 is also insufficient to ensure the RAF’s desired level of coverage. The manner in which the E-7 Wedgetail was procured single-source also raised eyebrows, especially when SAAB’s GlobalEye offering was so compelling.

In the light of the recent RAF evacuation from Kabul, the decision to retire the C-130 fleet of 14 aircraft early seems ill-judged. It is also inconsistent with reconfiguring the Army around an expeditionary capability. If the decision to retire the C-130 was reversed, it would not require significant investment to sustain the fleet in service to 2040, because it benefitted from a £110 million life-extension program between 2017 and 2020. Obsolescence issues were somewhat exaggerated to justify the C-130J’s retirement, but it was only acquired in 1999, two years before the C-17A. 

With a 37-tonne payload, the RAF’s A400M Atlas strategic transport aircraft has proved itself to be a worthy successor to the Lockheed C-130J Hercules which can only carry 20-tonnes. However, given an expeditionary focus retiring the C-130J but only having 22 A400Ms seems shortsighted. (Image: UK Ministry of Defence)

If we insist on focusing the strategic air transport fleet around fewer aircraft types, then we must commit to acquiring an additional quantity of A400M Atlas. This may actually be the best option. Despite initial teething problems, it has matured well, meeting successive capability milestones, including parachute delivery and austere runway operations, so that it is now superior to the C-130J. If the RAF were to acquire an additional 10 A400M for a total fleet size of 32 aircraft, this would more than offset the loss of the 14 C-130J, because the A400M has almost double the payload. 

The C-17 has more than proved its worth over the last decade. With a payload of 77.5 tonnes, including an ability to carry main battle tanks, it was the workhorse of Operation Pitting. While we might wish to acquire more aircraft of this type, the production line has now closed. It is unlikely that any other operator would sell or lease aircraft to us, but if were possible to acquire an additional 2-3 aircraft, we should jump at any such opportunity. A total fleet of 10 C-17A plus 32 A400M would be consistent with our aspirations to deploy an air manoeuvre brigade.

Achieving reach within a global context remains a major challenge for the RAF. It is wholly reliant  on its fleet of 14 A330 Voyager tanker aircraft to strike targets at reach. To some extent, the Navy’s carriers address this requirement, but the F-35 has a limited operational range. The Reaper (and soon Protector) RPAS fleets have to some extent restored a long-range capability, but we still need to be able to conduct a long-range strikes that are less dependent on air-to-air refuelling and escort aircraft. This makes it important for Tempest and the Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) combat drone to include the long-range performance characteristics that were lost when Vulcan and Canberra were retired.

The RAF’s new Protector RG Mk 1 (MQ-(B Predator) RPAS will give the UK a superb long-range strike capability with 16 aircraft expected to enter service from 2023. (Image: UK Ministry of Defence)

The RAF’s support helicopter fleet offers superb utility and is relevant for disaster relief as well as regular battlefield roles. The Boeing CH-47 Chinook is particularly capable and flexible. The decision to upgrade it was a wise move. There are also plans to replace the RAF’s 24 Puma support helicopters with a new type. The Agusta Westland AW149 and Airbus H175M are strong candidates that would both be built in the UK. The RAF and Royal Navy are keen to acquire the Bell MV22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft; however, this is an expensive aircraft ($100 million each) with low fleet availability due to its complexity. It would be better to wait and see whether the US Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program delivers a machine that offers greater utility / reliability at a lower price. 

Outsourced pilot training has proved to be far from ideal for the RAF. The PFC solution needs to be revised to ensure it is fit for purpose. Finally, a question mark hangs over the RAF Regiment. In an era when headcount is chronically stretched, does it make sense for the RAF to employ 2,000 personnel in an airfield protection role, especially when the RAF Regiment’s services were eschewed in favour of 16 Air Assault Brigade during the exit from Kabul? 

06. OTHER AREAS

Space, Cyber, Electronic Warfare, Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems have become important new domains. In particular, delivering satellites into space to support communications and the GPS network and preventing them from being electronically compromised will become a more urgent priority. As all three services try to offset reductions in headcount, automated and remotely control systems will play an increased role. Artificial intelligence systems can help to reduce the cognitive burden as well as making-up for reduced numbers. A key concern is that we cannot invest in these emerging areas, which are still largely unproven in combat, until we have restored our primary capabilities to an acceptable degree. A critical mass of legacy systems is vital to de-risk new technology as it matures. 

The need to consider additional domains further dilutes what is already an overstretched defence budget. While the 2021 Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper were fundamentally about defining a new strategic blueprint, they unavoidably included a subtraction of capability across certain areas. The £16 billion that has since been added to the budget is most welcome, but it must be seen for what it is: a means of ensuring that current plans are deliverable, not an excuse for service chiefs to go on a spending spree. Ultimately, defence spending has been on a downward curve since 1990. The time has come to increase it proactively, rather being caught-out by unforeseen world events that force us to react rapidly after the fact instead of before. 

07.  DEFENCE EXPORT OPPORTUNITIES

Investment in defence is seen as a crucial element of the Government’s national prosperity and “Levelling-up” agendas. In the maritime domain, the establishment of a UK National Shipbuilding Office will do much to promote Britain’s expertise in this area and thus fuel exports. The recently announced AUKUS alliance and joint submarine programme is a bold initiative that will improve security in the Indo-Pacific region, but it is also an unprecedented opportunity to export submarine-building expertise in partnership with the USA. If this leads to a multi-national nuclear attack submarine programme with 30-40 boats being built, it will dramatically reduce the cost of future SSNs for the UK. It may also create further export opportunities. 

The UK-USA-Australia submarine alliance (AUKUS) will result in a new joint submarine programme between the three nations. The new submarine is likely to be based on the US Navy’s Virginia Class nuclear attack submarine (shown above) and will use American small reactor technology. With a common class of submarine shared between three nations, purchase costs are likely to be less than if each nation designed and developed its own SSN type. This means that UK may be able to afford more than 7 submarines to replace Astute in the late 2030s. (Image: US Department of Defense)

The Type 26 frigate design has already been selected for Australia’s SEA 5000 frigate requirement and also for the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) competition. Given its sophistication and cost, it may have limited appeal beyond nations with larger economies. The Type 31 frigate, however, is a less costly warship, giving it a wider appeal to export customers. The recently announced Type 32 frigate will be developed specifically with affordability in mind.

In the air domain, the UK’s Tempest next generation combat aircraft programme, which is being conducted in partnership with Sweden and Italy, has strong export potential. Following in the footsteps of the Typhoon Eurofighter, Tempest will compete with France’s new SCAF aircraft programme, which is in many ways similar in concept. It could make sense to combine both programmes in a single European sixth generation stealth aircraft, but the political and diplomatic fallout following from the AUKUS announcement may make such a cooperation challenging in the short-term.

As the Airbus A400M begins to outperform the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, this also has the potential to replace legacy fleets. Although manufactured in Spain, it supports an extensive UK supply chain. 

In the land domain, Britain has rejoined the OCCAR partnership in order to acquire the Boxer 8×8 vehicle. As a result we have obtained manufacturing and export rights for the platform. Plans are already in motion to export Boxer to the Middle East. The vehicle is a transformational capability that is more than able to replace older wheeled and tracked armoured vehicle types, so it has considerable international sales potential.

Boxer 8×8 Mechanised Infantry Vehicle will provide the British Army with a wheeled medium weight platform. This is the recovery variant being demonstrated by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and FFG. (Image: FFG)

Perhaps the area of defence with the most export potential is that of emerging technology. Remotely operated systems and artificial intelligence can increase critical mass while reducing the number of personnel required to operate sophisticated systems. Anything that is less costly to operate will have a wider appeal. A second area is quantum computing and its potential to leverage big data for the battlefield. In the short-term, the most pressing need is harnessing technology to offset the effects of global warming. As armed forces consider options to reduce their environmental impact, eco-friendly propulsion systems will grow in importance. Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are preferable to internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) for smaller, lighter vehicles, but the energy density of current batteries is still sub-optimal. The advent of solid state batteries promises to increase autonomy while reducing weight, but so far they remain an aspiration more than a reality. Hybrid drives are starting to appear, but we cannot expect military vehicles weighing more than 20 tonnes to go fully electric until commercial truck fleets adopt BEV technology that offers reliable performance at current weights. For very large vehicles, as well as ships and aircraft, hydrogen fuel (HFC) technology may be the way ahead. The key to sustainable HFC propulsion is the ability to generate green hydrogen at scale and to distribute this via a national infrastructure. We are still long way from being able to do this, but such technology offers export potential if we can develop innovative solutions.

08. SUMMARY

The key question is what level of increased defence expenditure is needed to counter the growing threats we face? Our most expensive capability, the Trident nuclear deterrent, is also our most critical, because it is the ultimate guarantee of our security. The need for complete certainty that it would perform as required if needed it is what makes it so costly. While Trident reduces what we need to spend on conventional forces, a total reliance on nuclear weapons means they become the only option in the event of a major attack. So we need to balance the minimum level of conventional forces needed to deter a non-nuclear attack with what we can realistically afford. 

The Royal Navy is in good shape with three new classes of surface combatant in development or being manufactured. The AUKUS attack submarine deal will maintain excellence in warfare below the waves. Issues with the Type 45 Destroyer must be resolved, as this warship is crucial to protecting the carriers. While the Navy is well equipped, it cannot focus on the Indo-Pacific at the expense of North Atlantic priorities. 

The Royal Air Force is also doing well, but lacks mass. The total number of F-35 aircraft must be maximised, with at least 90 airframes being purchased. It should also acquire two additional E7 Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft as soon as this is affordable. Thirdly, the decision to retire the C-130 fleet should be reviewed. 

One of the UK’s most important priorities will be to maximise F-35B numbers. (Image: UK Ministry of Defence)

It seems as if the Royal Navy and RAF have been prioritised at the expense of the Army. The loss of headcount and failure to renew armoured vehicle capabilities have diminished it considerably. It needs serious attention to restore its combat power. Two light, two medium and two heavy armour brigades supported by a special operations brigade (or seven combat brigades in total) is not unreasonable compared to the armies of our European NATO allies, e.g. France, Germany and Italy, each of which has at least eight combat brigades. It is also the minimum we need to be able to operate in partnership with key allies, especially the United States of America. We must invest in more protected vehicles, including heavy armour, and artillery systems. 

Perhaps the most critical issue to address is the continued reduction in headcount. Having fewer sailors, soldiers and air crew limits our ability to operate the equipment we have, but also reduces force generation cycles. Some battalions were deployed to Afghanistan more than three times. Trying to live within allocated budgets has forced economies to be made. Accommodation, training facilities and other resources are suffering from a lack of investment. Quality of life for service personnel has suffered as a consequence. These things directly impact morale which affects retention and recruitment.

In the final analysis, it is often said that there are no votes in defence. When cuts are made, they may not be politically damaging, but there comes a point where our armed forces are no longer able to perform the tasks they previously took for granted. Given the sustained decline in defence since 1990 and the foreign policy aspirations set out by the 2021 Defence Command Paper, there is still a mismatch between the commitments we believe are essential and the resources available to fulfil them. 

It seems as if the Royal Navy and RAF have been prioritised at the expense of the Army. The loss of headcount and failure to renew armoured vehicle capabilities have diminished it considerably. It needs serious attention to restore its combat power. Two light, two medium and two heavy armour brigades supported by a special operations brigade (or seven combat brigades in total) is not unreasonable compared to the armies of our European NATO allies, e.g. France, Germany and Italy, each of which has at least 8 or 9 combat brigades. It is also the minimum we need to be able to operate in partnership with key allies, especially the United States of America. We must invest in more protected vehicles, including heavy armour. 

Perhaps the most critical issue to address is the continued reduction in headcount. Having fewer sailors, soldiers and air crew limits our ability to operate the equipment we have, but also reduces force generation cycles. Some battalions were deployed to Afghanistan more than three times. Trying to live within allocated budgets has forced economies to be made. Accommodation, training facilities and other resources are suffering from a lack of investment. Quality of life for service personnel has suffered as a consequence. These things directly impact morale which affects retention and recruitment. We should also remember that the effectiveness of everything Britain’s armed forces try to do boils down to its people. Attracting, training, rewarding and retaining talented men and women must be our No. 1 priority.

Ultimately, defence relies on people. (Image: UK Ministry of Defence)

In the final analysis, it is often said that there are no votes in defence. When cuts are made, they may not be politically damaging, but there comes a point where our armed forces are no longer able to perform the tasks they previously took for granted. Given the sustained decline in defence since 1990 and the foreign policy aspirations set out by the 2021 Defence Command Paper, there is still a mismatch between the commitments we believe are essential and the resources available to fulfil them. 

50 comments

  1. The key issue is addressed in the first couple of sentences:

    “Britain has the world’s six largest economy and the fifth highest defence expenditure……….. Britain spends £40 billion a year on defence or approximately 2% of GDP. About half that money is spent on developing new capabilities. The rest is spent on personnel, infrastructure and equipment support. Given the significant resources spent on defence and the relative freedom that the armed forces have to choose how they spend the budget they are allocated, the need for political oversight is paramount. The perennial question is do we get sufficient value for money from what we spend on defence?”

    We absolutely do not get anywhere near sufficient value for money when we compare and contrast against countries with similar size forces, similar budgets, or similar aspirations for forward deployed forces – for example Japan, Italy and France all seem to gain considerably better value for money, while accepting that they might even have to pay over the odds to support local industry. So then the question must be why?

    Does this problem stem from lack of actual teeth within the political oversight arrangements? Do the Parliamentary Committees have the necessary power to demand evidence and make changes?

    Does the MoD pay the full up commercial rates to gain, and retain procurement, programme management and supply chain expertise? If not why not ? (hint, see above).

    At the forces level, are senior officers posted to procurement roles long enough to get a grip of the, and are they “fired” or otherwise censured for poor performance – well that would be no, and no.

    I could go on, but those who come here have debated these issues for decades. Real change, in culture, management, development and execution of strategy needs to be driven from the top, Parliament, Downing Street, Whitehall to CDS. With the current Government, it wont happen. With the current civil service culture in MoD, it won’t happen. With the current apparently highly toxic environment within the senior management of the Army in particular, it won’t happen.

    I have no hope in any 21st century Marian Reforms, unfortunately just more of the same old same old, from talking a good fight about soft power while cutting FCO “experts” to convincing everyone that spending billions on 150 MBT’s means we are a “reference Army” …….. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A nice overview highlighting the good and bad. I not sure why the army has chosen to express what it offers so badly. It’s should have sold itself on a platform of shape, deter and respond to the nations challenging by highlighting and investing in its deployability, its engineering and supporting arms at the expense of some of its light infantry battalions.

    Along with the RAF mobility force of strategic aircraft it can meet not only the needs of supporting the nation at home as it has thru the pandemic but also ready to deploy its revitalised light mechanised brigades for things like evacuation or Mali or to rapidly to east of Europe. It could of made much of global engagement from already well established global bases it has manned for decades to offer specialist assets in things like communications, surveillance and in particular its EOD expertise to help engage with countries to improve there resilience and help in efforts to educate, clear and train people to deal with mines left from previous conflicts, this would play into cross government approach.

    For the RAF more focus should of been on both its strategic transport and aar forces. I don’t have that much of an issue with removing c130, the problem is, is not enhancing the a400m fleet as a result. Like wise with voyager fleet for relatively small amounts of investment we could of brought all 14 into service and enhanced the offering with the sat com , communication and c2 upgrades that have been trialled. They could go further and add some boom capacity if more support for allies particularly from a logistical point of view is considered a goal. If we consider our pacific allies while the likes of Singapore, Japan and Australia have close to 500 fastjets between them they have only 16 aar tankers, what would be of more benefit the UK deploying 8 fast jets or 4 Voyagers?

    In reference to the pacific why the army chose to mention so little about its garrison in Brunei and its decades long engagement in the region seems odd. With some rebalancing along the line of above it would been a much more cost effective engagement in the pacific. It could well of been coupled with a fwd rotation of a400m or voyager aircraft as a contribution to the formation of an equivalent to the European air transport command with our pacific partner’s as Singapore Malaysia and Australia operate the same aircraft.

    Investing in LANCA and Protector is imo far more important than a new manned fighter. Typhoon is a hugely capable aircraft that we have the ability to incorporate newly developed radars, sensor, pod and complex weapons and upgraded propulsion system on, as well as ensuring LANCA is fully integrated with it. This would let us maximise resources by investing in areas we excel and increase the overall output of the force.

    In reference to the long range strike we should be paying close attention to the Rapid Dragon Developments in the US and there with JASSM being deployed from transport aircraft. Putting 24 long range standoff cruise missiles in c17 or a400m would offer a stand-off capability over several thousand nautical miles range and similar to what the US intends to offer with B52 for many years to come.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You raise a very good points about the RAF and fast jets. From what I saw in my time working with the RAF, fast pointy things, were embedded in the psyche of of RAF senior management. The culture of the fastest best jet fighter always seem to be the go to to option despite its most recent roles being in the excellent supply why and logistics role.
      I’ll recent engagement in Afghanistan has shown that there is definitely a role for a turboprop ground support what aircraft in a COIN capacity. Something like a tucano would provide this role considerably cheaper than a typhoon

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Nick

    I think this paragraph is probably the only piece of your analysis I don’t agree with:

    “Within Europe, deterring Russia continues to be the key challenge. Its activities below the threshold of conflict demand a response, but this should be based on the effect of hard power, rather than information or proxy warfare. Indeed, allocating scarce resources to “grey zone” activities could not only trigger a confrontation, but dilute the critical mass we need to counter real aggression.”

    Information operations are a part of hard power. I am not sure where proxy warfare stands in the context of potential Russian operations against NATO, but I would guess that use of “Wagner Group” type PMC’s to “assist” Russian speaking separatists in the Baltics might fit the description of proxy warfare, and so it to is intrinsically related to hard power. I fail to see how allocating resources to so called ‘grey zone’ activities could trigger a confrontation. Russian doctrine of ‘Total War’ includes risk management, the reason they use PMC’s is so that they have a way out in case of a robust response – if FCF or Rangers take out a bunch of Wagner operatives in a firefight that has a level of plausible deniability AND does not require a political face saving response that flies in the face of sensible risk management”

    “Hybrid warfare is also an instrument of risk management in the service of the Primakov doctrine, employed when hard power applications are to be avoided—either due to excessive risks or costs—or are otherwise impractical. And though hybrid tools can serve as a substitute for hard power, military force is always in the background when hybrid tools are deployed.” https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/06/05/primakov-not-gerasimov-doctrine-in-action-pub-79254

    This is not to say we should not have appropriate conventional hard power assets, such as well equipped all arms Battle Groups as our NATO Enhanced Forward Presence commitments in the Baltics and Poland – but rather to say that there is no difference between hybrid / grey zone, use of proxies and the actual exercise of hard power in the form of military operations and violent conflict.

    If we still feel we cannot afford both, then perhaps we (and NATO) are actually better off if we are supplying well trained, intelligent, fluent Russian speaking personnel who can can assist the local police and military by tackling Russia’s hybrid ops with a robust response that can scale up to low level “kinetics” before the escalation to needing armoured battlegroups, and GMLRS ER batteries can progress?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A very interesting response, Jed. Thank you.

      What I would say is this. Limited resources require the UK to select a more focused range of defence commitments. Instead of prioritising conventional forces that can physically deter an attack, such as a more credible EFP presence in the Baltics, we have decided to build the Army around a light infantry / SF model. How we are going to recruit excellent soldiers for Special Operations when the core of the Army is so reduced is one problem. The second, more serious problem is that we view the Ranger Regiment as a kind of Wagner Group equivalent. Should they need to get their hands dirty, there is no plausible deniability, just escalation.

      So yes, we do need to operate below the threshold of conflict, I am just not convinced that this should be one of the Army’s primary roles. I know you were involved in this area, and I definitely see value in Cyber, EW and information warfare operations. But I am not convinced we can start assassinating people, conducting strategic sabotage, kidnapping the children of key adversaries to coerce them in to betraying their country or forcing other behaviours. Once you go down this road, it is easy to cede the moral high ground. Neither Russia nor China care about this. We do. I hope we will continue to behave properly, otherwise we will be no different from potential adversaries.

      Israel is determined that Iran will not develop WMD. Its actions to prevent this below the threshold of conflict have steadily escalated. The Stuxnet virus caused Iranian computer system running nuclear centrifuges to spin out of control and break, set back Iran’s atomic programme. It was clever but not totally effective. Then Israel started assassinating Iranian scientists. This was basically an act of overt aggression. And now an undeclared state of war exists between the two states. If Iran succeeds in developing a nuclear weapon, Israel has made the likelihood of it being used against it all the more probable.

      As far as the UK is concerned, we have MI6 operating in the shadows. We also have GCHQ and a central cyber agency. This is excellent. We absolutely need these capabilities and long may we use them to secure our interests. The Army has 77 Brigade, SF, SIGINT assets, and other MI assets. Do we really need to spend more in this area when our medium and heavy armoured brigades are so under resourced? I don’t think so.

      I agree with you that upgrading only 150 Challenger MBTs is pointless. This is a decision forced upon the Army by a Government that seems bent on destroying any kind of Land Power capabilities that might restore our credibility among our alliance partners. You could be forgiven for thinking that the economies forced upon the Army are deliberate act of sabotage. As things stand, I believe the Army’s strategy lacks any kind of coherence.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Nick
        Appreciated the response. As you might expect, I am not suggesting abandoning the moral high ground at all, no UK HMG would sign off on that, we must operate within the bounds of international law and norms and standards. However rather than Rangers being our version of the Wagner Group, they are our anti-PMC capability. You mentioned escalation, and you cannot address a platoon size team of 30 40 Russian or Chinese PMC’s personnel by whacking them with a GMLRS or deploying an armoured brigade to deal with them.

        However I would also base the Ranger / SOF Brigade on the existing capabilities of 3 existing Parachute Regiment battalions, no need to re-invent the wheel. I also agree with you that there is too much light infantry, but we know they are light for budgetary reasons and not doctrinal!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Absolutely agree with the Ranger concept being sourced from existing assets, rather than converting (albeit pointless) light role infantry. If you don’t have a solid core of base warfighting capability from which to recruit your special forces, they are not going to be very special. To paraphrase the Incredibles: “If all your forces are Special, then NONE of them are Special”. There are already 5 regular and 3 reserve battalions of Paras, SAS and SRR, which should be more than enough to setup another non-conventional unit. Convert excess light role infantry to the air assault role in 16 Bde. I can’t see a realistic prospect of more than a company-sized parachute drop, so 2/3 Para could keep a company on high alert standby to support 16 Bde ops, but just use regular infantry bns for the actual air assault part.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. As explained in the article two of our three services appear to be sorted to use a popular term. However, in the case of the Army a catalog of failures as rendered the service hollow in the APC and Infantry support roles. Possibly losing Ajax and Warrior plus CVT in quick succession, could be catastrophic, yet a highly likely scenario? These vehicles could be replaced by leased US equivalents until such time worthy replacements can be found? Obviously, the US would need to be supportive and provide enough assets to fill the gaps. Close relationships appear to be growing with the US, RN, and RAF with shared operations using ships and aircraft, this could possibly be expanded to include land forces too!
    In future, Britain is unlikely to enter into a conflict without the USA being involved too, thus the Army needing to match Armour capabilities, and leasing the same Armour could make operational sense? I know the US equivalents are hardly leading edge, but they would be better than continuing with rapidly obsolete platforms.
    Some have hinted Ajax will not be a quick fix and if allowed to continue in development, we could be looking at five+ years before enough vehicles are available to field? I for one would advocate leasing US Armour to give the army equal capability, the scheme worked in WW2, so why not 2022 on wards?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The US Army has literally thousands of M1 tanks in storage we could buy…the Polish army are doing exactly that, all refurbished to the latest standard. From their point of view it’s good politics too of course.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t see what is stopping the UK from leasing US armour for the duration of the hiatus caused by withdrawing Warrior, and possibly canceling Ajax. Obviously, Bradley is not ideal but a fleet of refurbished vehicles, with possibly, some bespoke UK upgrades, could offer the MOD with options without having a gun to their heads. (forgive the phrase) Additional Boxer orders could meet some of the Warrior losses but I do feel there needs to be a tracked element in the mix. If the UK were to take Bradley it may lubricate a possible deal to buy the Bradley replacement, with UK vehicles assembled in Britain as with Boxer?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Same with australia. We got 160ish Sep 3 and various engineering vehicles on order

        That brings me to another point, I have been saying that australia and the UK should be actively working together to ensure that ours and UK forces are equiped the same. This was pre aukus and I believe its even more important. The two now has some a matching equipment or plans for it. Ie type 29 frigates, theoretically astutes might be an option, wedgetails, apaches, boxers.

        With australia in the final stages of selecting between Redback and Lynx. Maybe theres an oppertunity to bail on the Ajax and get what ever australia selects or have say in winner and purchases of it. Same with the abrams, this would allow more integrated force compostition with australia and less extent the US. Australia could change some of thier F-35A’s on order to B’s and do the same the US marine and fly them so often off UK and US every so often to make sure we have to skill set to do it in the future if required

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Couple of what I think are factual errors. You say only one T45 is deplorable, yet 3 are deployed today. 2 in the Indian Ocean and 1 near Gib. Also I don’t think Astute 5 has yet started sea trials, in fact I’m not sure they have yet started the reactor.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A great read as always. I don’t anything in the article will surprise most of us that have had a long interest in defence.
    I would say it is beyond doubt that we do not get value for money. But that doesn’t come down to simply mismanagement reasons or solely the forces themselves (although it is a large contributory factor), a lot of it lies squarely with politicians.
    When comparing to our European allies we have to bear in mind that we’ve been involved & heavily in almost every major conflict that the US have been involved in whilst our “special” friend has a 3.4% spend of a larger economy. Coincidentally the 98 STRATEGIC defence review settled around 3.2% assuming that out of operations would be likely. If we’d have kept to this Strategic figure I doubt we’d be in the overall situation of the smallest UK armed forces ever.

    Add to that short sighted cuts especially in 2010 that have yet to be reversed & defence would always suffer.

    The Army especially as instead of getting on with procuring a medium capability that it had dithered on for years then ended up concentrating on UORs.
    Running 2 sustained large operations concurrently even for a shortish period was (I don’t believe) an assumption of the SDR 98, if reality had been faced we’d have probably arrived at 3.6% being optimal in hindsight. Instead denial led to further cuts.

    Anyway we are where we are as they say so now what?

    The RAF & RN are covered well here & basically need continued investment. (Not that the Army isn’t just that it needs special attention)

    For the Army it’s clear that if Ajax is cancelled it is in serious trouble as a “force” – although if Ajax is unachievable it needs writing off. However, every effort must be made not to make the decision flippantly or just to save face – assuming Boxer can easily take over its role is a slippery slope & make it difficult to justify restoring the needed IFV program.

    IMO The light brigades need investment in, however, ultimately they should eventually re-emerge as the medium brigades.
    Using what it has the Army needs to invest & add RWS, light turrets, soft-recoil systems combined with L118 & 81mm (which it already has) then whatever reasonable additional armour it can as well as NLOS ATGMS to Foxhound & HMT fleets. Any HMT 400(Jackal) that can be should be upgraded to 6×6 HMT 600 (coyote). Enclosed cab kits should be purchased from Supacat.

    Using the range & agility of these vehicles could make up for lack of protection. Although risky it would at least boost the utility of these brigades to contribute to the combat power as well as being more deployable for overseas operations. It maybe that could also offer greater capability should/when/if Ajax goes to the wall.

    IMO Enough Boxers need procuring for 2 full brigades for all combat roles & quickly. Although unless more money has been found I would advocate a cheaper 6×6 solution for roles such as Mortar, Air defence, Ambulance, Troop carrier & ancillary roles. Considering Patria 6×6 comes in a million per unit – surely this makes sense or perhaps Fuchs 2 if it can match costs.

    The adoption of RiWP to the 6×6 (or similar) would still allow some flexibility in some roles RiWP can be changed in the field therefore Air defence or NLOS could be potentially transferred to a troop carrier for example obviously take longer than a module swap but feasible. Also it’s likely that these roles overlap with FV432 & therefore it could provide a cheaper replacement should that ever happen!

    For the future IMO the Army should then look seriously at finding/procuring an IFV that can accept Boxer modules. This would give further flexibility & the ability to share already developed modules for the Boxer fleet & mean quicker & cheaper integration of variants such as Ambulance, recovery etc. Rather than having to develop a fresh for a new IFV.

    Anyway rambled on enough now…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love the introduction, and indeed most of the content. A quite frank acceptance that conventional forces are so run down that nuclear threat is the only option we have to defend our country as we have nothing to prevent anyone reaching our shores.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a M.E.S.S. – Multiple Equipment Spending Shambles. The man who has presided over the army’s procurement debacle has proven the Peter Principle (basically a person is promoted to their level of incompetence) but he will be rewarded with a place in the House of Lords where he can continue to utter his business speak nonsense and leave a legacy of various PowerPoint ORBATs.

    There is no sense of urgency among any of the ‘leaders’, political or military, to sort this out, just a promise of jam tomorrow as they are seduced by technology, and as each iteration fails or becomes obsolete even before it enters service, they reduce the ranks of personnel to pay for this folly.

    I have absolutely no doubt that if our forces were to become involved in a ‘hot’ conflict, heaven and earth would be moved to ensure they are equipped to deal with it, but sadly not until a procession of flights into Brize Norton remind people of the sacrifice generations of young people have made to allow the keyboard warriors, me included, to sleep at night.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. No need for me to echo the previous commentators, with whom I totally agree…Frank Ledwich wrote an article for the Guardian recently his position being that unlike the Israelis (as an example) we just don’t take Defence seriously in the UK.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I can’t understand for the life of me the distribution of the Boxer vehicles. Two questions.

    We’re ordering 28 mortar carriers, 19 observation post vehicles, 24 beyond-line-of-sight platforms and 11 electronic warfare & SIGINT vehicles. Yet non of these roles benefit in a substantial way from the level of protection and mobility that Boxer has, its usp in the British Army. Why are they being purchased, when the money would be better spent protecting the infantry in the infantry carrying variant of which only 85 have been ordered (far too few to be useful)? is this even enough to equip a single battalion?

    Why if Ajax and Boxer orders are fufilled will the army have 178 apc’s and 235 Command and Control vehicles? I doesn’t make sense.

    This seems to be getting to a state where even a tin pot african dictator will have a better equiped army, atleast they have some ZU 23’s on the back of Toyotas to provide firesupport over 50cal’s.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dear Zach

      Why on earth do you believe that mortar and other variants do not benefit from the Stanag 4569 Level 5 + ballistic protection offered by Boxer variants, or by the mobility provided ?

      I see some issues with the mix, but mostly because I think Ajax should be cancelled immediately and more Boxers purchased with budget from that programme remains, so the mix would have to change again, but really what I am more interested in is why you think a mortar or a artillery / fires observation post as example, do not require the exact same protection and mobility as the infantry they accompany, not to mention the standardization of all vehicles in a given battle group????

      Like

      1. The issue isn’t that they can’t benefit from those things, it’s more that when you’re trying to get the most value, it’s inefficient to spend extremely limited resources on units that don’t get the maximum value from a piece of equipment. The Bushmaster for instance could be used as a mortar carrier and observation post vehicle etc with a feature set that was good enough for that role as they’re not going to be put directly into harms way, a Bushmaster costs a fraction of the cost of a Boxer, this means that the Boxers can be prioritised where that mobility and protection is of most use.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I think you’re right to say that a limited budget means we can’t hand out Boxer to everyone. But with the aspiration to adopt a 120 mm turreted mortar I think these should be mounted on Boxer, especially as they have a direct fire mode. Within an infantry battalion group I see eight Boxer variants as being desirable:
        1. Regular infantry carrier vehicle
        2. Command post vehicle
        3. Mortar vehicle
        4. ATGM vehicle
        5. Turreted reconnaissance vehicle
        6. Repair & Recovery vehicle
        7. Bridgelayer vehicle
        8. Pioneer / Engineer vehicle
        You might also want to add a 105 mm mobile gun system which would come in handy for urban warfare.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I find it interesting to compare your desirable variants with what the army has ordered.
        1. Infantry carrier vehicle – army order 85
        2. Command post vehicle; there are several roles, some of which Zach has queried, for the build configuration – army order 177.
        3. Mortar vehicle; you have justified this by an aspiration for a turreted 120 mm mortar – army order 0.
        4. ATGM vehicle; crews and weapons could be carried in specialist vehicles but the AT role is not specifically mentioned – army order 0.
        5. Turreted reconnaissance vehicle – army order 0.
        6. Repair & recovery vehicle – army order 0,
        7. Bridgelayer vehicle – army order 0.
        8. Engineer section vehicle – army order 60.
        The total of your desirable variants is 322, mostly command post, in a total order of 523.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Since I am involved in the programme, it is difficult for me to comment. What I can say is that initially the MIV Specialist variant will cater for mortar, reconnaissance, and ATGM needs. But specific variants are already in development, e.g. mortar, bridgelayer and armoured recovery variants were shown at DSEI in September 2021. KMW also showed its turreted IFV / CRV variant with the Kongsberg RT60 turret in May 2021. Rheinmetall’s CRV is now in service in Australia. So, plenty of options already exist with more on the way. I am confident that the Army will order more variants beyond those originally requested once Boxer enters service.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. @UK Land Power,
    Any chance, Nick, of getting an enlargement of the illustration “Emerging British Army 2030 Structure?” I really would like.to read what the planners have in mind for the future of the Army. Thanks if you can.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike,
      I will write a detailed article reviewing the British Army’s future strategy, roles, structure, organisation, capabilities and key equipment types as soon as Project Embankment is published ((hopefully later this month). I’ve already started work on it, but want to see what it will actually get before offering a critique.

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  12. To Paul’s point about the current Boxer order, at least the vehicle is a modular design and therefore potentially easily upgraded or repackaged…but I agree it does seem pretty clueless! As mentioned earlier the Army does seem to have an unusual pre-occupation with “command” vehicles, at the expense of more fighty options. The Ajax contract also includes a load of command vehicles…

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  13. Zach

    It is not about “value for money” – whether an 81mm through roof hatches or 120mm turreted, the mortar is the infantries organic close support fires, it absolutely needs the same mobility and protection as the APC version. Also, although we may wish there was, there are no Bushmasters or alternative vehicles on order to undertake this role. Finally, introducing another vehicle into the battle group increases logistics support and repair burdens.

    As to the number of “command vehicles” ordered as part of the Ajax and Boxer programmes, this is just another indication of lack of spending over decades. The majority of “armoured command” or “armoured signals” vehicles are ancient FV432 series vehicles that should have been replaced 20 years ago. Why do we need so many? Well, Mechanised infantry, armoured, Cav (Recce), artillery and engineer units all need highly mobile command amd signals vehicles. Before you state that these vehicles are to the rear, or not “in the lime of fire” that is very old fashioned thinking, in reality there are no front lines anymore, and one reason for large numbers of protected command vehicles is that LandRovers, Bedford 10 tonne remand tents no longer (if they ever did) constitute a fit for purpose tactical HQ.

    Are the numbers right? Is the mix of variants truly optimal – we don’t know because the Aemy has never published the thinking behind its mix of ordered variants, so really we have nothing upon which to base intelligent conjecture.

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    1. Every force has to prioritise even the USA with its massive budget can’t stick everything on the Bradley or the Stryker. That’s why vehicles like the AN/TWQ-1 Avenger mounted on the Humvee chassis exist within the BCT’s.

      Re: “there are no Bushmasters or alternative vehicles on order to undertake this role.” Don’t forget the Multi Role Vehicle-Protected (MRV-P) programme is still technically under way.

      The Mechanised infantry need Mechanised vehicles, what do you suggest they go to battle in? they have 85 vehicles ordered at the moment for four battalions, do the rest just walk to battle because you’ve given all their vehicles to their support? The support can “make do” in Bushmasters the Mechanised infantry can’t, they’d be slaughtered against a peer level adversary.

      What you suggest is totally illogical bordering on delusional. Go to eastern Ukraine and tell me about front lines, don’t buy into the bs about no frontlines, that’s just poltical speak for justifying poor defence spending.

      Re: “we don’t know because the Aemy (army?) has never published the thinking behind its mix of ordered variants”. This assumes there is thinking? I’ve seen no evidence of any planning from the army and they seem totally incapable of running and managing procurement. In my opinion it should be taken away from them as they’ve proven incapable.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As in my comments we can’t/shouldn’t need Boxer for everything but there will be advantages in maximising Boxer modules in roles especially if a tracked IFV capable of carrying Boxer modules were to exist.
        Where I think we certainly should purchase something cheaper is those planned MRVP 2 roles Ambulance & troop carrier & areas such as air defence, possibly BLOS ATGM. Patria 6×6 by all accounts costs 1 million each & has scalable protection up to STANAG 4. Added to this money could potentially be saved if NEMO (which IMO is the best & only 120mm mortar that should be considered for now & future tasks) is adopted as Patria has already integrated it. I wouldn’t use 120mm in DF as a matter of routine as muzzle velocity is not good – so level 4 should be acceptable?
        Patria have a good record in terms of licenced assembly in the form of Roosamak for Poland.
        This where I would also make the case for Cockerill 105mm on Boxer instead of Boxer 120mm mortar it has utility for both direct & indirect fire support with investment in ammunition this could provide support to CH2/3 MBTs as well as destroying Bunkers, using programmable ammunition to clear trenches, smoke, illumination, STUN could all be accessed – with dispersed tactics in play & digital nodes etc. extra mutual fire support would be welcomed its high angle also useful in Urban ops.

        Considering comments made about the number of robots in the Army is the high amount of C2 vehicles surprising? I can only assume that the Army plans to go big on UGVs & UAVs? Furthermore linking with airpower, long range fires assets such as F35 will be key especially the Deep Recce BCT?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Delusional – well at least on some exercises of the ARRC in Germany prior to its deployment to Afghanistan and CP “war games” in the UK we were practicing “no front lines” due to concept of Russian brigade groups penetrating into the rear, while we tried to do the exact same to them, so if we were actually practicing it 15 years ago, that makes it a memory, not a delusion. Ukraine is one kind of battlefield, Ngorno-Karabach was a very different one, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, all different and even where they look similar there is nuanced differences. So if you think Ukraine is the only model, then time to get checked for delusions….???

        I personally would give the full NP Aerospace Mali upgrade to all remaining Mastiff family vehicles, because whether we like it or not, the well protected Boxer is basically our replacement for Warrior at this point, hopefully a turreted version will be purchased make that more formal. Do we actually don’t know that MRV-P remains a funded programme? So yes we need something for infantry brigade combat teams to ride to the fight in, and if we need it to be cheaper than Boxer, then we have something that could tide us over and improve our protected mobility options.

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  14. “A mismatch between the commitments we believe are essential and the resources available to fulfil them.” A perfect summary of Britain’s dilemma which has only been made worse by the Integrated Review: to add a tilt to Asia/Pacific to commitments while numbers of everything are reduced further is absurd. The key is” believe “: Israel, S Korea, Taiwan for example, know what threats they face and can plan accordingly. But we don’t and thus struggle to distinguish between what is absolutely necessary and what is nice to have.
    With a budget unlikely to rise above 2% of GDP and yet still expected to include the costs of the nuclear deterrent and 2 large (overlarge?) aircraft carriers, there is simply not enough left to fund an adequate RAF combat fleet and a capable well equipped army.
    Of course the situation has been aggravated by procurement failures or gross overspends which other similar size countries seem to have largely avoided. France has successfully integrated the CTA 40 on armoured vehicles. Britain has failed to do so on 2 separate programmes. Is this an MOD fault, or as you suggest a failure by industry?
    But even if these programmes had come in on time and on budget, the bigger problem remains- how do we bring budget and commitments into proper balance? Do we need to be more radical in eliminating so called legacy platforms to ensure we can fund future ones? Could we revisit the cancelled plan to add amphibious capability to POW and delete the Albions? Could we reduce the Dreadnought fleet to 3 and build 2/3 more Astutes?
    It is hard to see what else could be eliminated to ensure funding for FCAS, Vixen and the complete renewal of heavy land equipment is sufficient.
    :

    Liked by 1 person

    1. PeterS

      The issues with the budget are largely short term. Equipment that should have been ordered in the late 90s to be delivered in the mid 2000’s/ early 2010’s wasn’t. Then when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came about this also messed around with all the equipment budgets, creating a similar delay as money was diverted. Then came the recession in 2007/8 with the cuts in 2010. All this in combination has created a backlog of obsolescence also called block obsolescence. Too many things need replacing all at the same time.

      It’s so bad that the Navy is ordering “Frigates” and equipping them worse than some corvettes, in order to pretend there’s a rise in Frigates for their political masters. The Air Force is ordering pitiful amounts of the most expensive aircraft possible, only to look good in promotional material, maybe. who knows? The Army can’t make its mind up on what it wants to be, thusly it keeps starting projects spending billions and then deciding it wants to do something totally different and cancelling them. At which point it repeats the process over and over again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with everything you say except for the comment that funding is a short term problem, Because military equipment costs have risen faster than general inflation, (they continue to do so) numbers have fallen. This would have happened even if budgets had been maintained. But they haven’t. Britain and most Western countries have: reduced the % of gdp spent on defence to 2% the NATO baseline, or even less. Some appear to have done rather better with less. Italy has well balanced, well equipped forces despite a much smaller budget than Britain. But Italy has no pretensions to global power status and concentrates its procurement and organisation on the Mediterranean. Britain, for obvious historical reasons, measures itself against the USA. We try to achieve the same capabilities albeit on a much smaller scale.
        When the decision was taken not to replace our fleet aircraft carriers, the defence budget was 4% of gdp. When the QE class were ordered, the budget was 2%.It should have been obvious that they were unaffordable unless other capabilities were cut. They have been – just 6 hunter killer submarines in service, surface escorts down to 17 with ordered replacements dangerously underarmed. The RAF has lost about half its combat air fleet over the last 10 years with no known plan to increase numbers before 2030. The army, misused in Afghanistan, is in a desperate state with numbers of personnel and equipment reduced to little more than a token force. Even if its equipment programmes had gone to plan( the navy’s didn’t with ship and submarine overspends accounting for most of the MOD black hole) the army would still be too small and poorly equipped.
        So the funding problem is a longstanding one. Either we up the budget or we reduce the commitments. The Integrated Review was a piece of political spin pushing the Global Britain theme. The £16b new money was needed just to cover existing programmes and their overspends. Instead of defining clearly what Britain absolutely needs to do, we got a promise of forward presence and a tilt to Asia/Pacific. What possible purpose is served by Britain deploying opvs in the Far East? Meanwhile the combat capability of all 3 services continues to decline.

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      2. You raise a good point in “Because military equipment costs have risen faster than general inflation”. This illustrates how the MoD is dancing to the tune of the defence contractors and manufacturers. Ajax is a classic case in point. Ajax afv has fallen below par in what was promised and when cancelling the project is suggested General Dynamics gets very litigious. The MOD must get more on point with their long term contract management

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Sorry, I didn’t get past the first paragraph:

    “Possessing nuclear weapons, which we hope never to use and that cost so much, makes them controversial. But they have kept the peace since 1945 and mean we need to spend less on conventional forces.”

    In the month of remembrance let us not forget the Korean War, Falklands War, Gulf War I, Gulf War II, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Syria. Not to mention Lockerbie and London 7/7.

    To what peace were you referring?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Regarding: To what peace were you referring? The peace means not another world war.

      In comparison to either of the two world wars, those conflicts are on a very small scale, far away from home.

      Why don’t you actually engage with the subject? rather than nit pick.

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  16. Zach, you wrote The peace means not another world war. It’s a point of view.

    War in Iraq has caused more than 185,00 civilian deaths, more than the total strength of the UK armed forces, more than the population of the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for example. To you this is death on a very small scale.

    I have been to Kensington and Chelsea but it’s not an everyday journey. To me it is far away from home. I have not been to Iraq, but I have been further. An Iraqi was on my university course. It’s a small world.

    I can get definitions of peace from nearly 2,000 years ago and from less than 100.

    Tacitus
    They make a desert and call it peace.

    George Orwell
    War is peace

    Bob, I think, has a different point of view.

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  17. ND is a strong advocate for Boxer in all its forms. A couple of questions please:

    Does he foresee it being kitted out with a Trophy style APS? So far the MOD only seems to be planning on fitting such a system to Challenger.

    Secondly KMW and RH have now pitching their revised Donar SPG turret on an HX 10×10 platform. The new turret holds more ammunition than the previous model, but looks too long for a Boxer… which system would ND recommend?

    Cheers!

    Like

    1. Hi Orlok,
      Thank you for your comments. I have three fundamental beliefs about UK mechanised brigades equipped with Boxer:
      1. Any combat vehicle intended to be used to counter peer or near peer adversaries will need to have APS.
      2. Counter UAS capabilities cannot be a divisional or brigade level asset. Lightweight cannons with proximity airburst ammunition will be essential at company / squadron level.
      3. No Boxer formation can take on near peer adversaries equipped with only a 12.7 mm HMG. Adding a coaxial Javelin would be a great step-up in lethality and is already planned. But we absolutely 100% need a turreted vehicle with a 30×173 mm cannon. 35×228 mm, 40×180 mm, 40×220 mm CTAS, and 50×228 mm are also good. Add twin Javelin fired from under armour and you are in business.
      The Rheinmetall HX3 is a big vehicle with a big turret and will weigh 45 tonnes or more. It will have notably less protection and cross country ability than Boxer and with an exposed fuel tank on its flank can be taken out by a hand grenade. Of course, if it has an L/60 howitzer instead of an L/52 one plus rocket assisted ammunition, then maybe it can operate from further back. But the extra barrel length gives only 5 km of extra range. It is exotic 155 mm natures that really get you from 30 km to 70 km. So I remain a strong advocate of the Boxer RCH155. (Working with KMW I can’t say anything else, but I absolutely believe it is the better option).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you very much for sharing. Fascinating for me to have access to such informed opinions! If they work as advertised then it seem pretty logical that all AFVs would have APS just like they all have smoke dischargers. Especially if they can be made much lighter. I’ve just been surprised that there’s been no official mention of such systems except with the C3 program.

        My first reaction to seeing the HX mounted gun was it looks the size of a house! But then anything with a long barrelled 155mm would have to be substantial. I believe that the Bundesweer are looking at both options, it will be interesting to see which way they go.

        And absolutely nothing wrong with advocating a product you believe in sir!

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      2. I think it does depend upon the role & the other systems & weaponry purchased if the MOD are invested in deep fires something like the NAMMO Scramjet round could go over 150km therefore you could base your guns alongside MLRS. However, given the expense of these rounds it is unlikely they will be widespread. If you are in the up to 70km range your likely going to need protection I would have thought?
        Maybe the answer could be a mixed approached HX3 armed with longer ranged rounds & Boxer with slightly shorter range ammunition? I like the Boxer solution as it should allow artillery raid tactics & these could be coordinated between the deep recce strike & heavy BCTs
        From what I understand has been developed from army feedback but I think it offers either a very expensive & exquisite options with its potential strengths & a less capable system in other areas/missions. Therefore personally I’d also prefer Boxer good both strategically & tactically, but if we have the money when MPF is procured both!

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      3. Regardless of the mounted platform, it’s pretty clear that the British Army’s direct and indirect fire capabilities are in serious need of upgrade. The current weapons are overmatched by any likely adversary in just about every category. I’d say we need to be looking at the following:

        * Mortar for light/utility vehicles: Soltam K6/M120 (120mm) with M326 Mortar Stowage System
        * Mortar for armoured vehicles: AMOS (dual 120mm)
        * Lightweight towed gun: M777 (155mm/L39)
        * SP gun: Boxer RCH (155m/L52)
        * Direct fire gun (infantry support): Oto Melara (120mm/L45)
        * Direct fire gun (MBT): Rheinmetall L55A1 (120mm/L55)

        The only one of those currently on order is the new gun for the CR3. The 81mm mortar and L118 light gun might just about be okay for the Air Assault brigade, but don’t really cut it for any other application. The AS90 is obsolete, and there is no current equivalent of the armoured vehicle mortar (i.e. turreted, not just carried in the back of an APC/IFV).
        Nor is there an equivalent of the infantry support direct fire gun, along the lines of the Stryker MGS or Centauro II. Having a smoothbore 120mm gun on a chassis like Boxer or Ajax gives you breaching support for urban/complex terrain, and also has the possibility of various tube-launched anti-tank/anti-air missiles.

        There was a British Army video the other day showing the “awesome” firepower of the Paras – yeah, 81mm mortars, WW2-era machine guns, and 7.62mm GPMGs. I’m sure the Russians are quaking in their boots at the mere thought of that.

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  18. With respect to the AUKAS deal:

    “The UK-USA-Australia submarine alliance (AUKUS) will result in a new joint submarine programme between the three nations. The new submarine is likely to be based on the US Navy’s Virginia Class nuclear attack submarine (shown above) and will use American small reactor technology.”

    Where does this line come from? I’ve not seen the slightest suggestion anywhere else that AUKAS will lead to a common SSN for the US, UK and Australia, still less that it would be a development of the 1990s Virginia class design. US “small reactor technology” sounds like somebody misheard comments about the Rolls-Royce SMR project and added that two to the two from AUKAS to make five!

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