hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 31 July 2018


In the wake of the failure of the Modernising Defence Programme in this second of my extended summer food-for-thought essays William Hopkinson and I offer a radical new approach to the design of a credible and affordable UK security and defence policy. William was a former Director of Studies and Deputy Director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) and Assistant Secretary of State (Policy) in the Ministry of Defence in London. As you will see such a policy would require hard facts to be faced and tough choices to be made, for neither of which the May Government has shown much aptitude. We have, with all due respect, ventured to cast the advice in the form of a submission from the Cabinet Secretary.

Minute from Cabinet Secretary to the Prime Minister, September 2018

Summary: In light of the inability to properly fund the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security and Review and the failure of the Defence Modernisation Programme there is an urgent need for the United Kingdom to re-consider security and defence policy in the round. The UK faces adversaries armed with new technologies and ways of offence that render its current security and defence structures obsolete.  We must meet critical threats, on occasion independently, usually in alliance or coalition, across a broad spectrum, but have a host of legacy structures and systems. We need radical solutions in which security and defence are organised effectively. We must understand the nature of contemporary threats and their interaction, the impact of new technologies and propose to establish a credible level of response and recovery in the event of shock. That will require intelligent but profound choices to be made and will inevitably require a wholesale re-structuring of the Armed Forces driven solely by relevant considerations rather than resources available due to the current policy of imposing profound constraints on the public purse.

The Tasking
1.       I asked the Cabinet Office for advice on devising appropriate structures, below government level, to ensure the safety and security of the state and its members given the rapidly changing and deteriorating strategic environment, the emergence of new adversaries and threats and the re-emergence of ‘traditional’ adversaries armed with new capabilities and technologies. The result is set out below.

2.     `The areas covered include those commonly embraced by the police, armed forces and intelligence services but also deal with gaps in current structures. The responsibilities of and relationships between the structures and organisations proposed have been considered on their merits, without constraint from existing practices or legacy equipment.

3.           Britain needs appropriate machinery to formulate, review and implement national strategy. It lacks an effective mechanism for the scanning of strategic horizons, the crafting of consequent objectives, and the making, pursuit and fulfilment of appropriate strategy.  This does not happen in practice, partly because ministers are unwilling to engage in this way, and partly because the machinery to formulate coherent strategic advice does not exist. Given the need to service the voracious twenty-four hour news cycle ministers regularly confuse the tactical with the strategic. The Prime Minister’s heavyweight engagement is necessary directing and coordinating the three principal departments Defence, Foreign Affairs and the Exchequer.

4.      The government must be able to defend the home base and its population, and the overseas territories, contribute to the defence of allies, and project power to realise its legitimate vital interests where and when that is necessary. It must do so against traditional threats and across a new spectrum that involves and combines hybrid war as well as the renewed threat of military aggression including through the use of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence.

5.           It is vital that not only do our security structures integrate and work seamlessly but also that all parts of government, and indeed other public authorities, do the same. The different parts of government and state machinery must work as a coherent whole. There will be important interfaces between security organisations and bodies responsible for public health and national infrastructure. Those bodies will be the subject of separate studies.

6.       This minute is essentially about how to meet security needs. Economy and efficiency will be important but for the sake of the study I have assumed that there will be no undue resource restraint. The UK is around the upper quartile of EU states in GDP per head and I have further assumed that we will continue to commit circa 9% of public spending or roughly 3.5% of GDP to security. Given the UK has a circa $3 trillion economy some $100 billion per annum is devoted to security in the round. If the security afforded by the private sector is included the resources available to the UK to mount credible and effective deterrence, defence and recovery is considerable. The missing factor is structure and organisation to co-ordinate and employ such capability effectively.

The Threats
7.           The UK must be able to respond to natural disasters, major accidents and malicious attacks, both at home and abroad.  The effects could range from the undermining of societal cohesion to widespread destruction of population and infrastructure, even to the undermining of national existence. Attacks may be by state or non-state actors, or a mixture, and involve high-intensity, cyber and hybrid warfare.

8.           Hybrid warfare may involve conventional weapons, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), crime, terrorist and information elements that could destabilise, preventing effective governance by an adversary state. It may also include direct military action, major criminal activity and subversion. The aim of such attacks is to create a political dystopia in which systems of governance break down, trust between citizens and the state collapses, leading to situation in which a state is felt by its own people to have no greater legitimacy or capability than aggressor groups.  Such efforts at de-legitimation may also extend to institutions and international organisations, such as the EU and NATO.

9.           Cyber warfare transforms cyberspace into a battlespace. The strategic aim is to ‘turn’ computer systems large and small into a weapon to disrupt and destroy critical infrastructures and procedures of the state. This can compound social vulnerability and a lack of social cohesion thus undermining societal resiliency.  Cyber aggression may be the mechanism of choice for an adversary seeking to escalate a conflict whilst at the same time preventing or delaying attribution of a hostile act. It also enables terrorists to force multiply and adversaries to employ such groups remotely as part of a destructive process of conflict escalation.

10.        In the wake of the Salisbury nerve agent attack, it is clear Russia now poses the most direct military threat to the United Kingdom. It has placed increased emphasis on nuclear weapons, and other forms of unconventional hybrid and hyper warfare capabilities and capacities, to counter what Moscow believes to be NATO’s conventional military superiority. Meanwhile, radical Islamist groups, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, are also exploring the use of technologies and strategies to penetrate open, western societies, erode the protection of the home base and undermine the social and political cohesion upon which all security and defence strategies in democracies are necessarily founded. Also, other illiberal regimes are developing high-end military capabilities that could place both the UK and its deployed forces under enhanced threat. These efforts could soon be reinforced by new force multipliers, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing and their integration into the future order of battle, allied to the development of hypersonic weaponry. The UK is unlikely to successfully deter or defend against what can best be described as radical warfare unless it can also demonstrably do so simultaneously same against hybrid, cyber and hyper warfare.

11.        The range of capabilities required will involve high-end war-fighting, gendarmerie, border control, crime-fighting, including against financial and cyber-crime. This is not to say that everything from nuclear deterrence to neighbourhood policing should be the responsibility of one organisation, only that decisions about organisations and structures must start from what needs to be done, not what has always been done. The same is true of intelligence-gathering and analysis, not least as regards what is done for protection of the home base.

12.        Radical warfare allows no place for silos, a terrain reservĂ©, or internal jealousies. Nor should we seek to introduce the sort of structural checks and frictions found in the USA machinery of government. Overcoming existing attitudes, traditional approaches and understandable loyalties to how things have been will be a challenge that must not be shirked. At the same time, we must remember that maintaining the morale of those who may be called upon to hazard their lives in the national interest is vital.

13.        Defence of population involves deterring and defeating both aggression and serious crime and also dealing with natural and other disasters. Working with allies and international institutions involves diplomacy and effective policy coordination as well as the application of force, all of which place a premium on the maintenance and enhancement of Britain’s influence, itself underpinned by a credible level of British force.

14.        The application of force will involve action by land, sea, and in the air, and in cyber activities and space. It will need to be integrated with effective presentation and information, both for the home audience and for others. Countering hostile information and distortion will be essential. All the above will be necessary not only in dealing with state actors but also with serious crime, insurgency and with the complexities of hybrid warfare. The long-standing divisions of capabilities between military land forces, navies and air forces, and between such armed forces and police does not even meet current requirements, let alone radical warfare.

15.        Information and knowledge are central to the mounting of any effective defence in radical warfare: ‘thinking forces’ able to generate, assess and use information will be critical to both deterrence and defence.  That will necessitate the move to a much more comprehensive force posture – civilian and military alike. Experience gained by the Joint Force Command will be relevant though not sufficient.

Intelligence, Cyber and Information
16.        The current top level Intelligence structures should be maintained, with a Joint Intelligence Committee entirely free from political appointments or membership. The Defence Intelligence staff should also continue. A joint Service/Civilian organisation should be charged with offensive and defensive Cyber warfare, and with out of theatre Information warfare.

17.       There are three strong arguments for closer integration of armed forces than has usually been seen: one is so that on operations there is commonality of vision about the problems and how to tackle them; the second is the impact of new technologies on force structure; but it is the third that is perhaps most compelling – the need to avoid three-way squabbles about the division of a now very limited British defence cake. If there are three chiefs of staff there will be ferocious arguments about splitting the cake three ways; if there are only two the squabble is reduced to a two way one. A fourth significant argument is to ensure rationalisation in procurement and logistics.

18.       We need to better understand the range of technologies and techniques available to adversaries, from the application and exploitation of big data to exploit divisions with society to the use of unmanned drones and AI-armed with long-range weaponry that could inflict sudden and massive damage. Such understanding requires a culture of worst-case assessment to be re-established, the engagement of the political leadership in realistic exercising, and ensuring a continuum of credible effects across across effective defence, deterrence, consequence management and resiliency of both people and systems. Consideration must also be given to the impact of such new technologies on structure and command and control in a crisis when the time for decision-making could be reduced to seconds.
19.        The UK is particularly well-placed to take advantage of new technologies, of which most of the development takes place in the private sector. However, as yet the UK has failed to exploit its extensive private security sector.  A partnership would help create capability and be a possible source of regular and surge capacity. It would also reinforce the ability of government to recover from an attack or a disaster. However, many companies at the cutting-edge of innovation have little experience of the defence sector and it will be important to develop a much broader understanding of ‘defence’ in the business community than hitherto, whilst ensuring that research undertaken in the UK is not stolen via industrial or other espionage. 

20.            The relationship between the state and its industrial sector in extremis should also be considered.  A variant from well-established policy of STUFT - ships taken up from trade in the event of conflict could help bring industries relevant to security and defence rapidly under state control in the event of need. The UK should also consider assisting such companies to make them more robust against all forms of attack, including cyber.

21.            One particular lacuna in the UK’s deterrence posture needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. As the conventional forces have declined in comparison with potential and actual adversaries reliance on the nuclear deterrent has implicitly increased. However, the UK’s nuclear deterrent is a last resort.  The treaty-legal and illegal development of short and medium range nuclear-tipped missile systems by Russia suggests that should conventional deterrence fail the UK would face a choice – seek terms or escalate immediately to the level of nuclear Armageddon. Such a situation would afford ministers little of no option but to effectively submit to an aggressor.

Ground Operations
22.            Military and hard security operations will generally require engagement on the ground: even pirates usually have a home port that must be gripped if their activities are to be abolished. The UK needs ground forces (an army) to aid the Civil Power, to project to protect and defend itself and its allies, and to deter aggression. These will include Special Operations Forces, forces capable of undertaking gendarmerie roles, and those capable of high-intensity combat.

23.            Engagement on the ground will usually require mastery of the air (which may or may not have to be achieved against opposition) and cyber and information operations. Air support, both kinetic and for local movement, must, in general, be integral, though elements may need to be added from naval structures, particularly in littoral operations. The ground operations in which the UK is likely to be engaged away from the country are most likely to be in conjunction with allies, although cyber and much information activity by their nature need not necessarily be carried out in the physical area of actual engagement. Nevertheless, for these activities, there needs to be the closest liaison between the command structures of any deployed British forces and those of allies and whatever organs are conducting the operations.

24.            Ground operations may range from all-out heavy conventional combat to relatively peaceful gendarmerie operations, and also humanitarian relief work, sometimes with several operations running concurrently. In particular, keeping the peace amongst a civilian population during and after combat may require multiple roles to be played by and in support of the forces on the ground. All levels will require the use of aviation assets, intelligence-gathering and interpretation, and (except in the case of natural disasters) concurrent offensive and defensive cyber operations. In all cases, information activity, in and out of theatre, will be essential.

25.            Given the requirements, land forces will need to be significantly increased in size and improved in capability.  NATO assumes that the UK will provide two divisions within 60 days of a major emergency being declared. At present, we would struggle to deploy even one such division and be unable to provide a high-end, manoeuvre force for some time after the commencement of hostilities. In other words, British land forces could well face a crushing defeat in the early part of a war, particularly forward deployed forces on NATO’s eastern flank. Even the crudest of analyses suggests that the British Army needs to be at least twice the current size.

26.            Command must be vested in the lead ground engagement agency, usually the Army although, exceptionally, another agency may be appropriate. That force should be responsible for the air assets involved, whether for movement or reconnaissance/intelligence gathering or kinetic action. Those assets should, in general, be Army ones in peace as well as in deployment and manned by Army personnel. An exception may need to be made if naval assets are assigned to this work, e.g. carrier-borne aircraft. In that case, there will need to be clarity over command and control for the period of assignation, and over the terms of the assignation itself.

27.            The issue of appropriate national, civilian police structures will be the subject of a separate submission, which will cover the interface between them and the armed forces.  However, given the security and defence issues faced by the UK, and their interaction, not the least of which is the growing threat of transnationally-organised criminal gangs, there will be a need for an armed, military, deployable gendarmerie-type force. That force may undertake some of roles normally carried out by Royal Military Police (i.e. the armed forces’ internal police units) but will have wider responsibilities maintaining order in conflict and post conflict situations as part of re-energised civil defence and effective consequence management and recovery.  In peacetime, the numbers required will not be large but there could be significant requirements for expansion in conflict and humanitarian crises.  The key will probably be to have the bulk of such a force provided by reservists, perhaps those not fully fit for high-intensity-combat, with a cadre of regulars, drawn possibly from the military police.

Air Operations
28.            Air operations are indeed vital but need to be integrated with others. Extensive experience has shown, contrary to early hopes, that the air arm alone cannot win wars. The scope for independent air operations will usually be very limited. Except for the unlikely but not impossible requirement for some independent strategic strike, ultimately the nuclear option, air operations need to be closely integrated as a function of ground or maritime operations, with a particular focus on anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) and rapid supply and re-supply of forward deployed forces. In the former, they should be no more independent of the main ground effort than the use of artillery (of which they are in essence a kind) or of other (tactical) reconnaissance assets. Those undertaking the missions, whether of combat, reconnaissance or transport, need to be, in understanding, training and tasking, as one with the rest of the forces engaged on the ground. Similar arguments apply to the involvement of air activities with maritime, whether for combat, policing, reconnaissance or long-range transport. The critical factor is the steady shift away from manned platforms and moves towards automated command structures informed by unmanned space and air-breathing SIGINT and strike capabilities. If it is ever built the part-manned 6G Tempest fighter would almost certainly mark the last such air defence asset that carried a human pilot.

Air Defence
29.            Such developments as the Tempest, allied to cyber, AI and other new war-applicable technologies now bring into question the need for a separate air force.  With the Royal Air Force celebrating its centennial and commemorating those tens of thousands who gave their lives in the defence of Britain further major reductions to the RAF will come at a political cost.  Opposition to the plans to close historic RAF Scampton give some idea of the opposition to which such a significant chance would lead.  However, all of the above can leave no doubt that the UK must forge a new balance between the future defence roles of the Armed Forces, the ability and willingness of the country to afford them and the likely profound impact of new technologies on the structure and method of Britain’s future force.  Therefore, we conclude that a separate Air Force is unaffordable and will complicate unnecessarily structure and command at a time when speed of decision-making and response will be a vital, if not the vital, element of a credible deterrence and defence policy.

30.            Furthermore, except for close-in protection of ships and personnel and materiel on the battlefield, air defence must be layered and executed far out and probably at greater altitudes than could be attained by manned aircraft launched at a putative enemy close to launching an attack. Stand-off weapons, such as the new Russian Kinzhal missile, which is capable of speeds in excess of Mach 9, and cyber threats to defensive systems make it necessary to integrate and combine information, AI and missile defence responses to cyber and air-borne kinetic threats. Such integration and machine-led reactivity will be essential to the effective air defence of the homeland, as well as for the successful conduct of expeditionary warfare, including the movement of force to theatre.

31.            The main protection against air attacks crossing Europe must involve an effective defence coordinated through NATO along the line of access across the continent, facilitated by enhanced military mobility via air, sea, rail and road. Many of the necessary systems and assets will be those of allies, with which British contributions must be able to integrate seamlessly. For attacks crossing open seas, the assets required will be largely maritime, both for information gathering and execution. To protect both the homeland, and deployed maritime assets against such attacks the UK must deploy forces of its own. The same sort of assets will also contribute to protecting naval forces from surface and subsurface attack. Given the security requirements, the most effective arrangement will be for extended air defence to be a naval responsibility.

32.            Therefore, we recommend reverting to a two force, naval and army structure, with the two forces being two halves of a deep joint force construct. We further considered whether that approach should be carried a stage further, merging the Army and Navy into one Defence Force.  That has been done by some smaller nations, in general, who do not seek to play a world-wide role or a high-end role in conflict. Such attempts at force synergy has not always proved successful and given Britain’s mix of responsibilities and complex objectives, and the different roles of maritime and land engagement we do not recommend such a step. Nevertheless, the Army and Navy must be capable of close, joint operations, and generally, the command structure will reflect that.  To inculcate the appropriate skills and attitudes the rank structure above Brigadier/Commodore should be both common and joint.

Force Projection
33.            Force projection involves getting to grips with an opposition, probably but not necessarily at least involving a state actor, and possibly several hostile elements, some overt and some covert. Such action is likely to be with others under some international mandate or agreement. For the UK such contingencies will involve getting there, securing passage by land, air or sea (or several of them); entry into theatre; and engagement with the opposition, whilst holding off interference by ground, air or maritime elements. The first step, after political decision, is integrated planning, involving diplomacy, information and cyber-defence. The next is securing passage and entry to the theatre of operations, requiring transport and force protection.

34.            Force projection needs intelligence-gathering, and preparedness for air, land and probably maritime engagement. Except in the still unlikely but no longer impossible case of all out engagement with a major enemy (the complicating policy factor) where there may be a case for a strategic strike, once forces are in theatre the focus should be directed by the ground engagement. Movement to theatre and any forcible entry may require different arrangements.

Littoral Operations
35.            Except in littoral (brown water) operations, there will be little direct read-across between maritime and ground combat (as opposed to logistic) operations. Littoral operations are a significant aspect of security and of fundamental importance for Britain’s interests. They can be very complex, not least because of the increasing urbanisation of conflict. In part, it is because of the change (in simple terms) from getting forces safely into where they are needed, to their operating effectively therein, and of switching certain assets from a maritime role to a ground one. In part, it is because littoral operations may well involve humanitarian and constabulary roles for which warfighting assets may not be ideal whilst purely civilian assets may not be appropriate.

36.            Ideally, Britain needs more dedicated assets and personnel, closely linked with the Navy, to cover the whole range of potential in-theatre activity: military, humanitarian and constabulary.  Resources are unlikely to permit that, and some of the skill and assets are likely to be of direct relevance to other land warfare commitments.  Therefore, the best compromise may be a core of naval integrated assets and personnel, capable of dealing with maritime, ground support and a range of land warfare situations, in particular forcible entry and assault, and supplement them by attaching elements from a ground warfare force.

37.            The UK is an island power, with a long though now attenuated maritime tradition. Force projection will necessitate movement of forces and equipment from the homeland to the place of deployment. Much of that movement will require sea lift, certainly for heavy equipment and stores and probably for significant numbers of personnel. Even movement by air will generally involve overflight of sea to avoid the political complications of overflying neutral or hostile states. In the circumstances, the movement of a force into theatre, and their guarding along the way, will be a critical element of mission success.

38.            Not all the assets and personnel involved need be naval, though in general that will make sense. The point is that the direction and responsibility must be naval. Unless the personnel and assets have other roles, unrelated to movement and its safeguarding, they should be naval or maritime-specialised civilian assets and personnel. Effective maritime reconnaissance, strike and patrol aircraft naval will be of particular importance. The role of ground support aircraft borne on carriers, of land-based air defence aircraft protecting maritime assets and of strategic reconnaissance and intelligence gathering assets receives further consideration below.

39.            As an island, heavily dependent upon sea-borne trade, and with world-wide interests the UK needs effective maritime armed forces (a Navy).  The organisational issue is what capabilities the Navy should require and how far they should be integrated.  Some assets necessary for the effective functioning of a Navy, such as strategic intelligence collection and analysis can best be run on a national basis; others that have historically been separated, such as maritime reconnaissance and strike, should be integrated. Therefore, naval assets and responsibilities should include all maritime and air lift/transport, except tactical battlefield movement; all long-range air reconnaissance; and all extended airborne air defence.

40.            Consequently, the UK needs maritime-amphibious forces that can both project power in strength and extend power in numbers.  The future fleet should be constructed around two large aircraft-carriers with the UK able to deploy one, possibly two fully-armed and fully-protected battle groups reinforced by a significant number of Special Operating Forces and specialised marines. Force protection will be critical and require the ability to defend against all potential forms of attack. Those include the use of fast speed boats by terrorists armed with explosives, sea-based hypersonic missiles capable of up to Mach 9, and underwater weapons using artificially intelligent robotic swarm technologies. Therefore, in addition to the two capital ships, the UK must have effective anti-submarine and anti-air capabilities.

41.            The aircraft carriers would be unsuitable for launching and sustaining ground forces for anything but the most permissive of operations. Without their heavy equipment, such forces are little more than light infantry. Moreover, given the risk of shore-based anti-ship technology, deploying the capital ships into the Littoral would subject the UK’s main carrier-strike assets to an unacceptably high-level of risk for all but the most extreme of contingencies.  The UK would, therefore, need landing platform dock (LPD) and/or landing platform helicopter (LPH) ships.

Strategic Enablers: Space and Knowledge
42.       The essential message of this paper is that Britain needs to radically re-think its approach to security and defence, particularly in the face of radical war. The Armed Forces must be recast into a deep joint force organised around a reformed Army and Navy.  However, Britain’s future force will require two other strategic enablers – space-based capabilities and knowledge.

43.           In addition to air-breathing intelligence assets Britain will need access to or ownership of space-based SIGINT and military satellite communications (milsatcom) systems able to manage a high-level of data transfer at a high-level of encryption. The cost of such bespoke systems under sole national authority will be prohibitive.  Traditionally, Britain has offset such costs via access to US systems or via co-operation with other European powers, such as the Skynet series of milsatcom satellites. There may be another way to fund such assets via co-operation with the private sector. Both commercial space-based SIGINT and satellite communications offer a high degree of both capability and capacity.

44.          Implicit in the joint force construct is the idea of the ‘thinking force’. Given the complexity of radical war and other operations mission success will depend on the ability of officers at every level of the command chain to make reasoned decisions and understand the strategic as well as the tactical implications of their actions.  Such an approach will place an entirely new meaning on junior officer leadership and Britain’s future leaders (not just military) need to be far better prepared. Therefore, an enhanced programme of security and defence education and training will be critical to the realisation of national policy.

45.           The harsh logic of this analysis is that the UK lacks the right forces and the right organisation of forces to meet twenty-first century challenges. And, without a clear understanding of how to apply force against threat is uncertain about the critical security and defence investments it must make. Government is trapped between the need to invest in future security and defence and failing to do so for fear of making ill-informed or mistaken choices. In the absence of coherent policy government partially invests in an essentially legacy force simply to give the impression of defence engagement. Heat instead of light.

46.          Such drift in policy is becoming daily more dangerous. Given the vulnerability of British society and supporting critical infrastructures, the defeat of British forces would mean the effective and rapid defeat of the UK itself. Such a defeat could be inflicted by a determined state adversary with a markedly weaker economy than that of the UK. Grave damage could also be inflicted by non-state actors. Therefore, the intelligent strengthening of forces and radical improvements to organisation are imperative.

47.            There are many barriers in the way of such a radical programme of reform. There are powerful vested interests deeply-committed to ‘tradition’ and the legacy structures it helps maintain.  Government departments will resists synergies that erode their ability to shape and implement policy.  The cost associated with the process of transformation (for it is transformation that is necessary) will be extensive at a time when there are many competing demands on the Exchequer. However, given the current threats, and the changing nature and scope of those threats, such action is needed if the UK is to afford credible protection to its citizens in the twenty-first century, projecting meaningful influence, credible deterrence, effective defence, and necessary coercion at an effective level of capability at an acceptable level of affordability.

Cabinet Secretary