At the core of Britain’s defence strategy must be a force able to lead coalitions via a combined and joint force concept that is so closely co-ordinated that, in effect, it represents a true revolution in military affairs – organic jointness. In a 2013 speech to the Royal United Services Institute, the British Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Houghton stated, “As far as the force structure is concerned, we must exploit the advent of the Joint Forces Command to champion the enablement of the force. This command is now the proponent for C4ISR, for Cyber, for Special Forces, for Joint Logistics and Defence Medical Services. It owns those things that represent the nervous system of capability. And it has come of age”. In fact, the new Joint Force Command (JFC) must become far more than a mere proponent – it must drive change.
Therefore, it is time for Britain to be defence radical. It was Britain that created the first all-professional force back in 1960. Britain must now create the first truly strategic and truly joint force. The new Joint Force Command is a start, but it goes nowhere near far enough and, at the very least, must have high-level representation from all three services, if the new Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) is to be realised as a strategic rather than an economy force. To that end, a showcase is needed that demonstrates the capacity of British forces to reach and strike and afford Britain effective command and control of coalitions. In that context, jointness means synthesis thorough combined and integrated forces, including appropriate civilian elements.
However, it is precisely in the domain of joint and integrated capability that organic jointness is vitally needed. For too long Service chiefs have seen such capability as secondary to their own core Service capabilities. That must end. Joint and integrated capabilities are the bedrock upon which the Joint Force must be established, and central to the working up of organic jointness. This is vital for effective command and control and strategic situational awareness. The Joint Force Command must therefore be given the status and authority to drive organic jointness across the three Services. It should also be given a further role (with supporting capabilities and resources) to reach out to all civilian national means.
To achieve such a radical shift Britain's 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 2015) would need to mark a clean break from SDSR 2010. SDSR 2010 was a spread-sheet review, where balancing the books came well before establishing a coherent strategic military capability. To be fair, this is not surprising given the current government was faced in 2010 with unfunded spending commitments of £74bn when it came to power. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, faced with such a liability, was right to suggest that one of his main tasks was to end what he called a “conspiracy of optimism” at the Ministry of Defence and defence equipment. However, balancing strategy with commitments has proven harder than expected.
Indeed, whilst those who drafted SDSR 2010 understood this requirement and accepted capability “holidays”, there was apparently very little linkage between the SDSR’s cost-cutting mission and the ‘strategy’ trumpeted by government and the defence review singularly failed to properly align resources and commitments. Consequently, Future Force 2020 (FF2020) is a messy compromise driven more by budget considerations than strategic calculation. The current buzzwords of MoD-speak – agile, flexible and adaptable – must thus be seen as metaphors for cuts rather than some new concept of jointness or interoperability and, at the very least, SDSR 2015 must move to resolve that tension.
The sheer scale and pace of cuts also had a disastrous effect on British influence. SDSR 2010 nominally cut the defence budget by 8% but, in reality, went far further, whilst the Government’s June 2013 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) ‘shaved’ a further 7% off what was meant to have been the absolute defence bottom-line. This sent a very negative set of signals to allies, partners and the armed forces themselves. It almost certainly encouraged those who would welcome diminished British and, by extension, Western influence in the world.
Hopefully, with the CSR the British defence budget appears to have at last been stabilised, although the Chancellor is calling for a further 20% off public expenditure post 2015. Moreover, defence cost inflation is running markedly higher than the allowances incorporated into planning the defence budget, which is still declining in real terms. The Special Military Reserve will be cut by £900m but this is in line with reducing operational costs as British forces begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan. The CSR retained the defence resource budget at £24bn ($37bn) and the defence equipment budget was fixed at £14bn ($21bn), with a year-on-year real-terms increase of 1% up to 2020.
However, whilst there will be no cuts to the numbers of soldiers, sailors and airmen, major cuts were earmarked for defence civilians which will mean either the engagement of expensive contractors, the diversion of military personnel to undertake jobs hitherto done by civilians or simply a reduction of capacity to undertake work.