Author: Admiral Sir John Woodward, GBE, KCB
“We should always remember that we are a maritime nation and not just an extension of continental Europe. Our perpetual interest is the defence of our economic prosperity which depends primarily upon the free passage of our trade upon the high seas and the deterrence of those who would harm us there. Our strategic defence policy and the configuration of our armed forces should always reflect that. Three decades of MoD experience in the Naval Staff and the Central Staffs have convinced me that a fundamental change in the way we do business in Whitehall is necessary if we are to satisfy our strategic defence requirements at sensible cost in a period of extreme financial stringency.”
Planning – a Further Assumption.
Strategic Planning Considerations.
The Minimum Force Level
Quality and Quantity
The Way Ahead
Future Defence Budgets
1. This short paper proposes a fundamental change in the way the British Military Defence Budget is determined. It is based on seven critical assumptions and essentially proposes that a ‘bottom line’ for Defence spending by a liberal/socialist democracy in ‘peacetime’ can be established. Such a ‘bottom line’ should provide at minimum cost a stable national Defence plan robust against long term direct threats to national security but sensitive to short term unexpected crises.
2. Labour and Conservative governments have successively ‘gone astray’ on Defence for some forty plus years. In 1998, the Labour Government produced an entirely reasonable, short term but limited-scope Policy Paper [SDR 98]. However they largely failed to implement it. The present Coalition created the National Defence Committee (NDC) and produced a National Security Strategy (NSS). This was hailed as a wise start but the NSS proved to be of limited value for military purposes. SDSR 2010, having laid out its plans for equipment provision over the next ten years, declared that “the risks inherent in the currently envisaged Defence structure are acceptable”. In an uncertain, fast moving and dangerous world, this was no more than a blind declaration of faith for the next ten years, which history and now the Middle East Crises show to be dangerously unjustifiable. Both the NSS and SDSR reports advocated essential flexibility and a global presence but then the SDSR cut some of the capabilities that offer it. Poor executive management and a wish to spend Defence money on those ventures most likely to buy votes has continued and indeed has accelerated the adverse trends in the maintenance of national security. Failure of the government to address the simplest questions (such as, “How, exactly, Oh Ministry of Defence, does addition or deletion of this equipment meet our stated policy?”) has left the three Services in substantial disarray and in a very poor position to meet a serious threat to national security should it arise. The SDSR, because it predicated large reductions in defence spending without a clear strategy being developed first, resulted in a strategy limited by equipment rather than an equipment programme dictated by strategy.
3. For example, the European Fighter Aircraft, Typhoon, remains incapable of deployment beyond established friendly air bases, has been introduced with no ground or surface attack capability and substantial sums are now being spent to give it that capability despite the fact that :-
i. in the numbers ordered, it is greatly in excess of any formal stated requirement and….
ii. its costs have outrun any other MOD project including Trident.
4. Defence procurement has been a dysfunctional story since the early 1970’s. The causes lie deep – there has been no academic or professional approach to developing a coherent, comprehensible and long term Defence Policy since well before the 70’s. Without such a Policy Statement, agreed by both main political parties, consistency in implementation is bound to be unachievable in a Government Department which has to look thirty years ahead but is funded by Governments which naturally tend to look primarily only as far ahead as the next election.
5. To suggest a robust, coherent long-term strategic policy for the Defence of the United Kingdom, its offshore interests and territories.
6. This Core Force Defence Policy paper makes eight assumptions:
i. Human nature has not substantially changed in the last thousand years and is unlikely to do so in the next few decades. It follows that unless we do something about it, we will almost inevitably be involved in another major war which directly affects our homeland at some time in the future, though we have no idea when, who our enemy might be or what form this threat will actually take.
ii. Democracies are always reluctant to spend on defence when they observe that no immediate direct threat to their continued economic prosperity and sovereignty exists.
iii. We will not wish to rely on Weapons of Mass Destruction as our main defensive weapon system when that ‘inevitable war’ finally turns up.
iv. As an island nation it is not possible to defeat us in war quickly by direct surprise attacks on the homeland base because, firstly a major landing would take too long to prepare for and secondly, bombing us into submission would invoke our ICBM response.
v. Our industrial and commercial activity at home could be rapidly shut down by the interruption of our oil and gas supplies from offshore or serious interdiction of our global trade routes.
vi. Without reliable imports of foodstuffs we would soon face starvation.
vii Faced with anything less than national submission, we should always prefer to deter/defend at the lowest possible conventional [attritional] level first.
Planning – a Further Assumption.
7. For the Core Force concept to work, it is essential to agree what notice we should assume for being able to react to Assumption 6.i. above. This is a difficult subject but between WWI and WWII it was accepted as being ten years – up until about 1935/6. Ten years notice, as accepted by the SDSR, is demonstrably unsafe. Perhaps five? Perhaps three? Perhaps less? In national security, you should play safe to the extent you can afford to do so. Thus this paper assumes, for planning purposes and as a starting point, that the country will have at least three years warning of the next major war directly affecting the homeland. It is important to recognise the value of such a planning assumption because many strategic procurement decisions spring from it.
Strategic Planning Considerations.
8. These considerations are straightforward:
i. We should expect our strategic planning to be different from that of our continental neighbours whose armies can march over their neighbour’s border at any moment.
ii. We do not have to choose between a continental or a maritime policy because we are de facto a maritime nation.
iii. The EU continentals have to look after their own security interest – which is not identical with ours. And if they won’t, we should certainly not try to do it for them. We should maintain a British Expeditionary Force capability, not stationed abroad but available to go wherever/whenever needed.
iv. Core Force Policy is centred upon deterrence – if we remain demonstrably able to re-arm adequately within the given notice time, those that might wish to harm us will be deterred from taking such action.
The Minimum Force Level
9. Today in 2011, we are definitely not facing major war before 2014, and so:
i. What is the least we should spend on defence?
ii. Starting from nothing, could we create and develop all the necessary forces to deter/fight such a war in just three years?
iii. Could we, perhaps, rely almost entirely on a powerful ally to defend our interests?
If the answer to ii) and iii) is ‘yes’, we would need to spend very little on Defence.
10. Unfortunately, today’s ally may turn out to be tomorrow’s enemy and, even if he does not turn against us, he is always liable to say “why bother” on the day [USA 1914-1917, 1939-41]. ‘Starting from nothing’ is not an option simply because you cannot develop all the necessary military capability [equipment and skills] from nothing in much less than twenty years. However, there is still a fairly wide range of skills and requirements that could be met from ‘nothing’, or at least very little, in three years. Unless needed in normal ‘peacetime’, these should be funded only after careful scrutiny. Many, however it must be remembered, need much longer.
11. Arguably and for most effective military and budgetary planning purposes, military skills and capabilities should be divided into two groups, which together represent the full range of capability needed for a major war. These two groups would be:
i. Group 1 – The skills and capabilities that could be provided/re-provided within the warning time assumed (three years).
ii. Group 2 – The skills and capabilities that could not be provided/re-provided within the warning time assumed.
12. With a warning time of three years or more, it would be possible to cut back substantially from present levels on provision of Group 1, while maintaining Group 2 at levels adequate for skill maintenance and capability for war. It has to be realised that most military equipment, provided the manufacturing capability is maintained and the designs are kept up-to-date, can be produced within three years. Skills however, once lost can be very difficult to regain. Anything provided in excess of the strict needs of these two groups would represent the margin for national involvement in day-to-day military events not directly affecting defence of the home base, trade routes and offshore territories. Afghanistan and Libya would be cases in point.
Quality and Quantity
13. The quality of such provision will need to be the highest available – this will ensure
i. the best equipment for our military personnel who have to do the fighting and
ii. that our forces are readily able to co-operate with the most advanced ally we can find on the day.
14. As to quantity, this should be the smallest effective ‘core’ force/ skill/ equipment/ industrial capacity inventory sufficient to: -
i. Permit the training of large numbers of new personnel within the three years warning time assumed.
ii. Permit the building/construction/assembly of all necessary equipment in the same period.
iii. Permit proper training, development and maintenance of the ‘core force’ capabilities in ‘peacetime’.
iv. Deter and if necessary react to perceived threats that could materialise within the three-year “notice” period.
15. Complexity: The complexity of modern military equipment means that there will seldom be sufficient warning time to bring forward completely new designs. There will only be time to increase the force levels of existing designs that have been properly tested and proven. Such designs should all be found and kept up-to-date in Group 2.
16. Costs: The main ‘savings’ on existing Defence costs would be found in reduced front line levels across a whole range of existing military systems. While fewer units might be required, the maintenance of the means to re-provide them within the assumed warning time would be necessary. In certain areas active manpower could be reduced even as less costly Reserve manpower could be increased. The costs of research and development might rise considerably in comparison to the costs per unit produced but not in total project terms (off-the-shelf procurement could mitigate R & D expenditure – e.g. procuring the F-18 Super Hornet instead of the F-35). For home-grown equipment procurement, the costs of say maintaining aircraft construction jigs in case they were needed would be another extra cost, but a great deal less than actually building and operating the aircraft in large numbers. The cost of maintaining large but empty barracks and training facilities might again appear wasteful, but much less expensive than filling them with fully trained manpower. The costs of supporting shipyards could also be major, though if building was co-located with maintaining and refitting, it could be done a lot more cheaply than at present.
17. The resources required for Group 2 represent the area that most needs thorough examination – above all not by anyone with a vested interest. Industry might object, the three individual Services might object, European partners in joint projects might object. However, none of them will be able to defeat the logic of national self-interest. It is just conceivable that the Central Defence Staff could do the job, but recent events cast serious doubt on this.
18. Residual Peacetime capability: Our Group 2 Defence forces would be able to do much of what they could do prior to SDSR 2010, albeit on lesser scales and with less sustainability in some areas. Their capabilities would emerge from the initial ‘core’ exercise and if the government of the day decided it needed something extra, it would have to find the money to do it over and above the existing budget rather than, as now, relying upon left-overs from previous policies and equipment programmes.
19. Adoption of such a Core Force concept could provide a stable and consistent basis for long term planning within the Ministry of Defence, robust against short term enthusiasms, commercial pressures, Treasury-inspired last-minute cuts, political vote-grabbing, vested interests and less-than-rigorous arguments. Its few main assumptions, though arguable, appear robust. Its logic, whether it entailed more or less Defence expenditure, is simple, comprehensible and soundly based on historical experience.
The Way Ahead
20. The ideas presented above represent the bare bones of a feasible Core Force Defence Policy. In order to move on from ‘feasibility’ to ‘a properly researched and robust final policy’, certain steps would need to be taken, for example:
i. Phase 1: Require the JIC to provide a full (global) assessment of the risks to British interests, un-tampered by political restraints or fudges.
ii. Phase 2: Invite each of the Services to provide their independent view of our national strategic defence priorities to a small central analysis team.
iii. Phase 3: Invite each of the various vested interests (the three Services) to come up with their individual projected resource requirements for Group 1 and Group 2 capabilities based upon current and foreseeable operational commitments and roles.
iv. Phase 4: Agree a rolling review that has no regard to political internal targets such as elections, and preferably avoiding party politics, perhaps on a two year cycle.
21. A gradualist approach to implementing a Core Force policy could work well, providing the criteria for all future procurements and developments via the process at para 20 above. The adoption of such a policy would fit with historical experience and contemporary politics and would provide a robust bottom line for Defence: obviating the need to flounder from crisis to crisis and wasting funding on partisan interests, both inter-service and party political.
22. The range of further work required would include:
i. To work through the many subsidiary policies on reserves of manpower and equipment, production and production reserves, industrial consequences, etc., which would be required if such a policy were adopted.
ii. To identify the appropriate force types and force levels for each Group of capabilities.
iii. To adopt a common Harmony Policy for all military Services/Personnel.
iv. To calculate the budgetary costs. The savings on existing defence costs could be very substantial.
23. Being so radical and so careless of Single Service interests, this Policy could meet very substantial resistance: ways of ameliorating or bypassing such resistance should be sought.
24. Extra funding, beyond that strictly required for the Core Force, could be authorised as external events demanded (Contingency Reserve Fund, CRV), to meet ‘peacetime’ political needs short of a major direct military threat to the UK Homeland base.
25. Core Force budget requirements should be ‘demand led’ rather than ‘cash constrained’ and thus much less vulnerable to political raids. [‘Cash constrained’ does tend to lead to some very wasteful programmes mainly because the ‘cash constraints’ often only appear after the programme has been started].
26. Requirements for all expenditure extra to the Core Force would be ‘cash constrained’ as decided by Government from year to year.
Future Defence Budgets
27. Future Defence budgets would be in two parts:
i. The [strategic] Core Force Budget would be fairly stable and predictable, largely apolitical and probably inflation-proofed.
ii. The Extras Budget (CRV) would be negotiable in the light of what Governments saw as needed from time to time, responding to a stated Government [tactical] Defence policy. Today it might emphasise counter-terrorist operations rather than Expeditionary Forces or European defence. By 2020, it might move to some other idea occasioned by developments, say, in Europe – or wherever. But at least, we would all know where the Defence budget bottom line was – which we have never known before.
28. Adoption of a Core Force concept should provide at minimum cost a stable national Defence plan robust against long term direct threats to national security but sensitive to short term unexpected crises. It would provide a stable and consistent basis for long term planning within the Ministry of Defence, robust against short term enthusiasms, commercial pressures, Treasury inspired last-minute cuts, political vote-grabbing, vested interests and less-than-rigorous arguments. Its few main assumptions, though arguable, appear robust.
29. Its logic, whether it entailed more or less Defence expenditure, is simple, comprehensible and soundly based in history.
30. A gradual process, with its logic stated and adhered to as non-partisan Government policy, could be the optimum way of putting it into execution.
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