hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 31 October 2019

The Digital Fog of Future War and Allied Command Education

“That which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts;
Made weak by time and fate;
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.
Ulysses, Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 October, 2019. Transformative change is coming, and the Alliance had better be prepared. In my forthcoming book, Future War and the Defence of Europe, which will be brilliant and very reasonably-priced, I suggest that multi-domain warfare reaches across air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. Last week, I had the honour of addressing senior Allied and Partner officers at the excellent NATO Defence College in Rome. Founded by the then Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the mission of the College is to provide to NATO officers two of the most important strategic enablers – knowledge and understanding.

Writing my latest book I have been struck by the vital importance knowledge and understanding at all levels of command will have in the maintenance of deterrence, the conduct of defence and, if needs be, the fighting of future war. Knowledge and understanding will be vital to block and mitigate adversaries’ planned exploitation the digital fog of future war. Indeed, isolating command from its force and effects, and leaders from led, will be a primary aim of the future enemy warfighter.

This challenge got me thinking. If, as many at the higher echelons of NATO believe, the Alliance is moving fast into multi-domain future war, surely the place and role of all strategic enablers should be afforded equal importance in NATO’s changing, informal, and real, strategic concept, and more particularly in its military strategy.  After all, Allied Command Operations (ACO) covers the ‘doing’ stuff, and Allied Command Transformation (ACT) drives force transformation and development. And, whilst I accept that transformation also includes a role in command mindset-change, I am not sure ACT should, or could, affect the kind of knowledge-change mindset-change NATO forces will need to deal with a future war emergency.  Such change will be critical if the Alliance is to successfully and really adapt to credible future deterrence and defence against what the US Strategic Technology Office calls ‘mosaic warfare’.

The essential ‘thing’ about the NATO Defence College is that it is not a stand-alone institution. It supports and enables security and defence colleges across the Alliance by promoting best-practice models of education and research – how to know and what to know given the mission.  If the College is to further adapt it must also build on its efforts to exploit the digital domain through distance and e-learning, and by promoting a life-long professional military education culture that will be critical to future success at every level of mission command. More is needed. NDC should be given far more tools so that it can partner ACT and ‘transform’ education and training to drive forward ‘the cohesion, effectiveness, and readiness of multinational formations’.

The College adds real value to the Alliance mission, which is why, each year, I go there with enthusiasm. I believe in the mission. It is certainly not for the money.  What they offer, to my mind, is already at the cutting edge of professional military education. Still, as a former member of the NDC Academic Advisory Board I am also convinced they could offer so much.  If critical cohesion is to be afforded Alliance forces in an age of pan-spectrum digital fires what is needed is a range of best-practice education and knowledge ‘products’ from junior to senior levels of command, including simulation and table-top exercising, and which can be offered to all NATO nations.  The NATO Defence College is the place to develop and provide such ‘products’ precisely because it has the legitimacy and, with the support of the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, because it can.

Is there a problem? No. However, there is a possible confusion of roles in adaptation between transformation and education. The danger is that Allied Command Transformation might see education and knowledge as a sub-set of military transformation. They are not. They are, at the very least, the equals of transformation for without knowledge transformation military transformation can neither be generated, nor enacted.

Therefore, I have a simple suggestion: turn the NATO Defence College into Allied Command Education, arm it with a strategic education and knowledge mission, and promote the commandant of the NATO Defence College to Supreme Allied Commander, Education. Such a step would be both transformative, adaptive and exploit a critical Allied comparative advantage – its people.

To paraphrase Tennyson: that which we are can be improved; to equal understanding in heroic hearts; made strong by knowing and commanding our fate; to strive, to seek, to find, to know, so that we never have to yield.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Royal Navy Strike's Back!

“The Nelson Touch did not refer to diplomacy or his sensitivity to humanitarian need, however rightly important they are in this modern age. No, the Nelson Touch referred to the combination-in-action of innovation, education, instinct, technology and teamwork in the pursuit of victory”.

Julian Lindley-French, Trafalgar Dinner Speech, HMS Nelson, Portsmouth 2018

Alphen. Netherlands. 22 October. This past week one of Britain’s new 70,000 ton aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, took delivery of her first four F-35B Lightning 2 strike aircraft. It was quite a sight and a very big moment! Royal Navy carrier strike is back!

As she was receiving the first of her aircraft off Florida, the second ship of the class, the brand-new HMS Prince of Wales, was undergoing sea trials off the coast of Scotland. The Royal Navy is once again reinventing itself as Europe’s command hub navy, Britain’s future maritime-amphibious strike force, and a true burden-sharing friend of the United States and its overstretched navy.

This week last year I was in the UK, where I gave the annual Trafalgar Night dinner speech on board HMS Nelson at Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Portsmouth. It was a big night and a great honour. There were also two First Sea Lords in attendance. One told me I was a controversial figure, apparently (and hopefully) because I dare speak hard truth to often dim power. The other did not like the film I had made entitled The Second Battle of North Cape, during which a Russian hypersonic anti-ship missile sinks HMS Queen Elizabeth, even though he knows I am a big fan of the carrier programme. 

In a sense, both miss the point of my message. Given the fast changing character of war, and if Britain really does aspires to remain a ‘Tier One’ military actor, and the two carriers clearly indicate it does, then it will also need to face the hard realities of Tier One warfare in the twenty-first century.  If the two carriers are not properly protected against twenty-first century technology then they could be little more than a “target of convenience”, as one Russian admiral put it. Anything less is dangerous strategic pretence.

So, why am I fan of the carriers? My speech in Portsmouth was entitled Nelson and the Pursuit of Victory.  My theme was Nelson’s ruthless pursuit of adaptation and innovation to win. The Royal Navy has always been at the forefront of adaptation. It adapted in the wake of Nelson’s wooden-walled battleship fleet to become the imperial policeman of the High Victorian age. The Naval Service again adapted in the face of Wilhelmine Germany’s challenge to create the Dreadnoughts and super-Dreadnoughts of the Grand Fleet, which in May 1916 inflicted a strategic defeat on Admiral Scheer’s High Seas Fleet.

As a broke Britain began to decline in the wake of World War One and the drastic cull of the Geddes Axe, the Royal Navy was forced into a trap in which it has been ever since. The Naval Service simply could not be both a battle-fleet in being and an imperial policing force at one and the same time. With the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and the Mediterranean, and Tojo in Japan, all with naval ambitions, it simply became impossible for the Naval Service to defend the home base, imperial lines of communication, and the eastern British Empire.  The disaster that was waiting to happen took place off Malaya in December 1941, three days after Pearl Harbor, when a previous HMS Prince of Wales was sunk, together with the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, by the air power of the Imperial Japanese Navy (I wrote an Oxford thesis on all of this!).

The essential problem was that from the early 1930s Britain was trying to be a pocket superpower on a shoestring budget with London committing the Navy to too many tasks, over too much space, and with too few hulls. Not unlike today. Some suggest that the ‘RN’ today has too few hulls to be both a ‘Corbett Navy’ (imperial policing) and a ‘Mahan Navy’ (a battle fleet). Thankfully, it does not have to. In the wake of World War Two the RN handed the global policing role to the United States Navy, which is today facing similar pressures to that faced by the Royal Navy in the 1930s. The task of the Royal Navy became then, as it is now, to help keep the US Navy strong where it needs to be.

Cue carriers! The job of the reinvented carrier-strike Royal Navy is essentially to have the capability, the offensive strike power and defensive strength to command a coalition of European/Allied navies in a future high-end emergency in the Atlantic in which the Americans are busy elsewhere.  In other words, the ability to act as a credible fast, first, high-end responder force in and around Europe. Does that mean on occasions the RN might not be able to be everywhere all of the time? Yes. This is not the Navy of Admiral Parker.

However, with a powerful future fleet of two QE-class carriers, Type 45 destroyers, Astute-class nuclear-attack submarines, and Type 26 and Type 31 frigates, the Royal Navy is once again reinventing itself as the core of European maritime-amphibious coalitions. The delicious irony, given all the Trafalgar stuff, is that to make this logical strategy work the Royal Navy will need to work closely with the French Navy, which it does.  One of the finest dinners I ever enjoyed was on the gun deck of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, sitting opposite the admiral in command of France’s finest.  

To conclude, peer through the political nonsense of Brexit, which will at some point ease.  Britain’s enduring position as a major European regional-strategic power is embodied in the two new carriers, and will continue to be so, for many years to come. HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are two armed icebergs at the tip of a largely unseen British security and defence effort that transcends politics and Brexit. For the sake of Europe’s defence, and the health of the transatlantic relationship, it would be a profound loss if Britain simply became another of those ‘talk a lot, do very little’ European countries that seem to think their defence is someone else’s job. However, precisely because Royal Navy carrier-strike is back London must finally invest in the strategy their existence demands.

As for sniffy Royal Navy admirals, ‘tant pis’, as Admiral Villeneuve might have said. British admirals should know their own history. Informed members of the awkward squad like me are vital if HMS Queen Elizabeth and/or HMS Prince of Wales are not one day to suffer the same fate as another one-time ‘invincible pride of the Royal Navy’ – ‘The Mighty Hood!  Just read my forthcoming Oxford book – Future War and the Defence of Europe.

The Royal Navy’s carrier strike is back! Now, let’s finish the job and give them the tools to do what they are really designed for – to deter a high-end war by being demonstrably able to fight one!

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

The Riga Test 2019

“We are all inclined to judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their acts”.
Sir Harold Nicholson

Alphen, Netherlands. October 16. For many years I have had the honour of attending the annual Riga Conference. It is quite simply superb. And, every year I pose the Riga Test: can the good citizens of Riga sleep more safely in their beds than last year.  Naturally, given the location of Latvia the big issue is Russia, the now constant coercion against the Baltic States, and the threat posed by Moscow’s powerful armed forces just over the border.  This year the test also concerns Russia, but not directly. Rather, it concerns the implications of the latest Kurdish-Turkish war for the people of Riga.

Two conversations struck home to me at this conference. The first was my interview with an old friend and colleague, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, the former US Ambassador to Moscow and Deputy Secretary-General of NATO. You can see the interview on YouTube at  Sandy’s message was clear; Russia must be managed. However, managing Russia must be seen against the backdrop of a rapidly changing geopolitical environment driven by the rise of China, not least in Europe.

My second conversation took place over breakfast with the former British Foreign and Defence Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Malcolm reminded me of a 1939 book entitled “Diplomacy”, which had been written on the eve of war by British diplomat Sir Harold Nicholson. Nicholson warned there are three types of people that are anathema to good diplomacy – fanatics, lawyers and missionaries.

Russia’s success in the Middle East has been driven precisely by the combination of Trumpian fanaticism, European legalism and irrelevant evangelism.  It might sound strange to accuse President Trump of fanaticism, but a fanatic is someone so committed to his/her own cause that they will act at whatever cost to themselves and their cause. This latest Middle Eastern war was triggered by President Trump’s arbitrary decision to pull US forces out of North-West Syria thus ending their role as a buffer between Turks and Kurds. The consequent strategic vacuum is now being filled by the forces of Erdogan and Putin.

Now, I am not one of the European Chicken Little Brigade when it comes to President Trump. My first instinct is to respect the US Commander-in-Chief. However, it is increasingly hard to respect an increasingly capricious US president the actions of whom seem overwhelmingly driven by his need to assuage his domestic political base, and at any geopolitical cost to America’s standing.  

However, my main concern for Rigans rests not with Americans, but fellow Europeans. America’s withdrawal from Syria has revealed once and for all the complete absence of European strategic responsibility and any meaningful capability even in a region the fate of which has dire implications for all Europeans. Why? One need look no look no further than an expensive roll of toilet paper called the EU Global Strategy. Listen to the warbling of EU-funded European think-tanks one would think that the EU is about to become some proto-superpower.  In reality, the ‘Strategy’ was written by lawyers and missionaries and has just about enough reach to influence the Brussels Beltway, but little beyond.  It also says everything about the essential malaise of European external action – the gulf between values, interests, and power.

Contrast that with President Putin. For Putin the only ‘law’ is power, and whilst Europeans talk and Americans politic, Russia acts. As for President Erdogan, why are Europeans so surprised he is attacking the Kurds? Indeed, I even predicted this moment in my 2017 book The New Geopolitics of Terror. Even a cursory glance of Turkish history confirms Erdogan could never tolerate a Kurdish ‘state’ along Turkey’s southern border out of fear for Ankara’s eastern provinces. The absurdity of the Trump position is to sacrifice the Kurds (not for the first time in history) for domestic politics, but also sacrifice the US relationship with a critical Turkey. This is not US Realpolitik, this is just plain geopolitical incompetence. Nicholson, who was born in Tehran at the height of British imperial power, must be spinning in his grave, not least because Russia is now the referee of ‘rules’ in the region that it creates, and by which others will now abide.

Europe? It is hard to describe complete inaction and irrelevance as incompetence. Beyond the usual wittering the EU has said and done virtually nothing to influence a major crisis on its doorstep.  A few European powers have now moved to stop arms sales to Turkey – a NATO ally – which could well be met by Ankara re-opening the route for refugees to enter Europe en masse.  However, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, sanctions are simply the last resort of the strategically-incompetent and politically-inept.

Nicholson’s warning was a call for power and pragmatism in equal measure. Skilled diplomacy is the art of balancing the two to ensure the best outcome is not the enemy of the good outcome.  Turkey is a pivotal power for the defence of Europe, the Kurds, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Force, have been loyal allies in the struggle against Daesh. Now, more than ever, Europeans as ‘Europe’ should stand up to demonstrate precisely the strategic culture and responsibility they keep banging on about by trying to broker a peace. Such a peace would ease America’s burdens, keep the Russians in check, help keep Turkey on board, and afford some level of protection to Kurds now forced into the clutches of Assad. If ever there is to be a point to ‘Europe’ and its place in the world, it is right now and in that place. As ever, Europeans will neither agree nor act, beyond the now traditionally desultory.

Can Rigans trust America, or will they too wake up one day to suffer they have also been sacrificed on the hard anvil of geopolitics? My sense is they can trust the Americans, but I am less and less sure.  Can Rigans trust their fellow Europeans? What is there to trust beyond words and a few under-equipped soldiers? Indeed, what worries me most is not a capricious President Trump, but a Europe that seems incapable of ever growing up to meet the challenges and threats its peoples face. For, as Thomas Hobbes once said, “Covenants without the sword are but words, and of use to no man”. Europe?

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

The Warsaw Uprising

“The city [Warsaw] must completely disappear from the surface of the earth and serve only as a transport station for the Wehrmacht. No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation”

Heinrich Himmler, October 17, 1944

Warsaw, Poland. October 2. On September 17 1944, Stanley Nosecki, of the Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, was preparing to jump into the Netherlands under the command of the redoubtable Major-General Stanislaw Sosabowski. He was to take part in the disastrous Operation Market Garden and Field Marshal Montgomery’s attempt to seize the bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem. However, Nosecki’s mind was elsewhere, in Warsaw. Before Nosecki jumped he closed his eyes and dreamt of the Poniatowski Bridge, the King’s Castle, the Zygmunt Column and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”. “Are they still fighting on those famous streets of Nowy Swiat and Tamka? Is the Holy Cross Church still there, where I used to serve as an altar boy every other Sunday?” ‘They’ were his fellow patriots in the Polish Resistance, led by the Polish Home Army and the Polish First Army, who were fighting a desperate battle against battle-hardened Nazi troops. On October 2, 1944, seventy-five years ago today, these brave men and women were finally forced to lay down their arms.

Being here today at the excellent Warsaw Security Forum is an act of pilgrimage to those Warsaw fighters who stood up for Poland. It was not just the Nazis they had to face, but also the brute cynicism of Stalin. The aim of the uprising was to install a free Polish government that would affirm Polish sovereignty before the Red Army, which had pushed the retreating Nazis back to the shores of the River Vistula, installed a puppet regime loyal to Moscow. The Home Army had hoped for support from the Americans and British, but as so often their hopes were all but dashed.

Operation Tempest had begun on August 1 and was planned as a nationwide campaign. For sixty-three days the Poles fought in what was the largest resistance operation of World War Two.  There were possibly up to 49,000 Polish combatants, but only some 5000 at most had any guns. They faced up to 50,000 well-trained and well-armed German troops. By the end of the struggle over 15,000 Poles were either dead or missing.     

In the initial phase of the Uprising, the Poles seized much of central Warsaw and the surrounding forest. They tried to make contact by radio with Soviet forces, but the Red Army did not respond. Worse, they just waited on the edge of the city for the Germans to exact their bloody revenge. Over time, the Nazis divided Polish forces into six pockets, which they then systematically destroyed. Neither the Red Army, nor the Soviet Air Force, made any meaningful attempt to support the Poles.

Churchill argued at length with both President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin, but to no avail. Frustrated, Churchill ordered the Royal Air Force, with Bomber Command’s Polish squadrons to the fore, to support the Uprising. Between August 4 and September 28 the RAF dropped some 300 tons of supplies at low level, albeit some 50% fell into Nazi hands. Roosevelt eventually relented and permitted the US Army Air Force to conduct one high-level mission, which missed the target. The Soviets? They refused the RAF use of their airfields, forcing the RAF to fly long missions, and even fired on RAF aircraft. Forty-one aircraft were lost and three hundred and sixty RAF aircrew died. The Soviets did, in the end, drop some 13 tons of supplies, but much of it was dropped from high altitude with no parachutes and destroyed. In any case, it was all too little too late. On this fateful day, seventy-five years ago, some 15,000 Polish fighters were taken prisoner, and faced a grisly fate. By then, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish citizens had been killed, with a further 700,000 expelled from the city. Himmler kept his criminal word, and razed Warsaw to the ground.       

Fifty metres from my house there is a cemetery. Within its gates some twenty young Poles lay interred in Dutch clay. They had died, like so many Poles before and since, fighting for the liberty of others so they too might one day be free. They had died free men. The men and women of the Warsaw Uprising who laid down their arms that dark October day all those years ago were not defeated. No force, however haughty in its hubris can ever defeat the Poles, for the flame of freedom burns too brightly in them.

This blog is in honour of the brave Polish fighters who died defying two tyrants, and who laid the foundation for the free Poland of today. Poland, like Warsaw, emerged from the ashes, and should remind all Europeans that to defend freedom one must be vigilant...and strong.  

Julian Lindley-French