hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 25 November 2019

The Future of Airborne?

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 November. It is a dark night. No moon. Some twenty western hostages lie dispersed around a terrorist camp. British Special Forces have been mapping the site for some time, slowly building a biometric map.  They have successfully identified where the hostages are being held, as well as the routines, habits, strengths and weaknesses of their captors.  Radio and cyber communications have also been hacked.

Some miles off shore a wave of landing craft and CB90 assault craft depart HMS Prince of Wales and stealthily make their way to the shore.  Half of the force continues to the beach undetected, but halfway in part of the force stops. From the decks of the landing craft ghostly figures ascend to the heavens.  3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, is going into action.
At the spear-tip of the force is 45 Commando, the new AI-enabled Joint Commando Air-Maritime Assault Force.  Equipped with the latest Mark 5 Gravity Jet assault suits the battalion represents the future of airborne assault. As each commando rises into the night sky s/he carries an assault rifle and a series of small ground attack missiles. Heavier personal equipment is carried alongside by a personally-assigned ‘intelligent’ lift drone.  After the initial air-assault mission the Commando will hit the ground running and join forces on the ground, with their kit ready for action.
As the Commandos begin their part of the rescue a further phalanx of ‘intelligent’ fast strike drones lift off the decks of the British aircraft carrier and make their way towards the littoral. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35 Lightning 2’s are also warming up on the deck to reinforce the shock the Royal Marines, SAS and SBS are about to inflict.
Timed to match the moment of the enemy’s least readiness and thus create maximum shock and confusion, the SAS and SBS force move into the camp having dispatched some of the guards.  As they advance flying commandos and strike drones appear from several directions at once and target each individually identified ‘mark’. The Special Forces, now supported by the ground force, seize the hostages and extract them.

Merlin helicopters, with advanced noise suppression blades, move in behind the aerial human and intelligent machine attack ‘swarm’ so that the Royal Marines can escort the hostages to the ‘choppers’ and safety.  The SAS and SBS simply retreat, job done, unknown, unobserved, and back into the darkness from whence they came.

As the Merlin’s land four of HMS Prince of Wales’s F-35s from 809 Squadron Fleet Air Arm obliterate the camp. Ten minutes in and it is all over.

All a bit James Bondish?  Maybe. Just watch Royal Marine Richard Browning and his Gravity Jet suit!

Some years ago I led a significant project for the head of an important Allied navy into the future of so-called ‘brown water operations’. Entitled Effect in the All Water Battlespace: Riverine Operations, and without breaking confidence, the essence of the report was how best to reduce the cost per naval platform per operation.  However, to meet its goals the study also combined strategy, innovation and technology to form new partnerships and ideas. The ultimate aim was to understand how a force could better fulfil its mission as quickly, effectively, affordably, and as successfully as possible, as part of what is known in the jargon as ‘ship to objective manoeuvre’. Some of you may think Richard Browning’s Gravity Jet suit may have little military application. Let me assure you it has. Let me also assure you that right now defence agencies in China, Russia and elsewhere are also assessing it. 

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Maginot NATO? Fighting a War when the Roof Caves in

“An incessant change of means to attain unalterable ends is always going on; we must take care not to let these sundry means undo eminence in the perspective of our minds; for, since the beginning, there has been an unending cycle of them, and for each its advocates have claimed adoption as the sole solution of successful war.”

General George S. Patton

Network NATO

Alphen, Netherlands. November 21. At the NATO Foreign Minister’s Meeting in Brussels yesterday, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on the nations to recognise space as a domain of Allied defence and deterrence, alongside air, land, sea, and cyber.  To those five ‘domains’ I would add critical information and knowledge.  Stoltenberg was clear: “Space is essential to the Alliance’s defence and deterrence, for early warning, communication and navigation”. So, what happens when such ‘networks collapse? If the military net was ‘killed’ could Western militaries still take a coherent and cohesive fight to the enemy? Denied the direct command relationship between supreme commander and ‘strategic lieutenants’ implicit in networked warfare could NATO mount any sort of defence, beyond a series of local uncoordinated actions? As space-based communications, robotics and networked architectures become THE essential components of NATO doctrine, are potentially catastrophic vulnerabilities also being built into Allied defence and deterrence? 
n the eighteenth, and for much of the nineteenth century, Royal Navy squadrons and individual frigates were dispatched to claim far-flung corners of the world for His/Her Imperial Britannic Majesty.  They were armed by Their Lordships of the Admiralty with little more than the broad strategic intent of the government of the day. Thereafter, remote from London, they went ‘dark’, and possibly for years. How their Lordships ‘intent’ was interpreted was entrusted to individual commanding officers.  So long as they were successful in their mission, or died trying, honour was said to have been served. In 1757, Admiral John Byng was executed by firing squad in His Majesty’s Naval Base, Portsmouth on the quarterdeck of HMS Monarch precisely for failing that trust, although King George II also played a dark political hand in this tragic affair.

Some of my best conversations take place in the unlikeliest of places. Last Wednesday night I was having a ‘mind my own business’ pizza in a Roman trattoria as I prepared to brief NATO admirals and generals on the future of NATO at the excellent NATO Defence College, two old friends walked in, Professors Stefano Silvestri and Holger Mey.  Some fifteen years ago Stefano and I collaborated on a series of reports into the future of European defence for the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Venusberg Group. Brilliant, and very reasonably-priced (free), they are still worth a read Holger is a fellow member of The Alphen Group strategy network, or TAG,, which I have the honour to chair. Thereafter, a very convivial evening was had by all.

What if NATO crashes?

Napoleon said one should “never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake”. Holger raised a vital point, as he so often does, that has been of concern to me for some time. What if all the digital, networked, increasingly ‘AI’ and space-based architectures upon which the future Western way of warfare is being predicated were to collapse? Too often Western defence planners seem to think that the West adversaries are stupid, will do exactly what they expect them to do, and will only attack Western forces, and indeed society, where it is intrinsically strong.   It is a message Holger hammers home to great effect in his brilliant briefings on the changing relationship between strategy, technology, mindset and effects.

What some call ‘hybrid warfare’ I prefer to call 5D warfare; the considered and relentless application of complex strategic coercion across disinformation, deception, disruption, destabilisation, and destruction. It is a form of perpetual warfare at the seams and margins of open societies, soft critical infrastructures, and insufficiently-hardened military command chains that is purposefully designed to keep the armed forces of democracies permanently off-balance.  

In May 1940, the numerically superior French and British armies collapsed in the face of the far smaller Wehrmacht. This was primarily because the Wehrmacht’s offensive doctrine (the military way of doing business), which combined strategy, tactics and technology to great effect in the form of Blitzkrieg, critically and catastrophically overcame Allied defensive doctrine. The success of the Wehrmacht was almost symbiotic with the nature of the force-on-force conflict. Allied armies were either too static, the French Maginot Line, or suffering from the false assumptions of France’s General Gamelin and Britain’s Lord Gort about how the Wehrmacht would employ manoeuvre warfare.  The result was that in the six weeks following May 10 the Allied armies became rapidly separated, whilst their respective command chains became increasingly incoherent as individual formations were either isolated and by-passed (Maginot Line), or became ever more separated from their own command chains. Patton was surely right when he said, “fixed fortifications are monument’s to man’s stupidity”.  The over-extended, and far too small, British Expeditionary Force had been sent to deter, not to fight. 

London and the Audit of Alliance Vulnerabilities

Patton also said something else, NATO leaders might wish to consider at the forthcoming ‘Leader’s Meeting’ in London: “If everybody is thinking alike, someone is not thinking”.  The gathering is nominally to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the April 1949 (???) founding of the Alliance.  London could well be dominated by a major Macron-inspired spat over whether, seventy years on, NATO even has a future.  Anything to deny the British a political and diplomatic success, eh Paris? As an aside, I do ‘admire’ the French ability to turn an essentially good idea – Europeans should do more for their own defence – into an unmitigated political disaster – but not so much with the Americans, and possibly without NATO.  If the leaders can get over that particular querelle most of a brief discussion will be devoted to the modernisation of Alliance collective deterrence and defence. 

If NATO’s leaders really want to go beyond simply ‘fact-checking’ progress on the 2014 NATO Defence Investment Pledge, the leaders could instigate an Audit of Alliance Vulnerabilities, and order NATO to imagine how it would fight a war in the worst-case. The Russian General Staff believe they have a great advantage in any future ‘kinetic’ war, which day-after-day they are planning, even if, hopefully, it is never activated. This potentially critical advantage lies not in any belief about the relative superiority of the Russian Armed Forces. Rather, it is the belief that with the clever application of 5D warfare the entire NATO command and control edifice could collapse like a pack of cards, or be by-passed like some latter day virtual Maginot Line. Therefore, if ‘London’ is to reaffirm Allied deterrence and defence NATO must demonstrate that Maginot NATO is but a Gerasimov wet-dream.

As for Admiral Byng, he was deemed by Their Lordships to have failed under the Articles of War to take the fight to the French with sufficient vigour, courage and imagination. As Voltaire observed in Candide his wonderful satire on misplaced optimism, Byng was executed “pour encourager les autres” – to encourage the other British admirals. Now, there’s an idea.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 15 November 2019

Europe Puissance or Macro-Gaullisme?

“What we are currently experiencing is the brain-death of NATO. You have no co-ordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None.”
President Emmanuel Macron


Alphen, Netherlands. November 15. Is NATO suffering “brain death”? President Macron of France certainly thinks so. In an interview for The Economist last week, the transcript of which I read carefully on two planes to and from Rome, Macron suggested the US can no longer be trusted to defend Europe, and effectively called on Europeans to defend themselves. Clearly, Macron’s one-time ‘bromance’ with President Trump is now mired firmly in ‘la merde’. So, what is motivating Macron? Is it another French attempt to generate Europe puissance, or just more Macro-Gaullisme, the applied and sustained hubristic application of a weak French hand in pursuit of French interests through more ‘Europe’ and less America?

The Economist interview reveals three strands of Jupiter-sized frustration. He is clearly frustrated that President Trump signalled his intention to withdraw US forces from Northeast Syria without informing his close allies.  This is understandable angst given the exposure of both British and French Special Forces to the White House decision.  His second frustration is that Europeans (for that read Germans) remain lukewarm to his idea of a high-end, projectable, robust European military capability – the European Intervention Force. This is even though nine European states have signed up, including the still-vital British, there is profound disagreement about the level of strategic autonomy from the Americans implicit in French ambitions. St Malo redux? However, it is the third strand of Macronian frustration that is at the heart of his concerns and pose the most fundamental of questions. Are the tensions in the transatlantic relationship simply due to one US president, or is there a deeper structural change taking place that will inevitably lead to the allies drifting apart? More of that later, but what of Macron’s prescriptions?

The six paradoxes of Macro-Gaullisme

The Macronian solution is for ‘Europe’, however Paris defines it, to generate far greater “strategic military sovereignty”.  There are six paradoxes the European defence of Europe would need to overcome:

1.   The Franco-British strategic defence partnership: Any such sovereignty could only be generated, to the extent it could, by Paris re-committing to a close military-strategic partnership with nuclear-armed London.  That would mean building on the 2010 Franco-British Security and Defence Treaty. And yet, President Macron also wants to make Britain pay for Brexit by insisting on the hardest of trade ‘deals’ in any future ‘strategic partnership’ between Britain and the EU. For Macron to think he can attack Britain at one level and forge a close strategic partnership at another is less Macro-Gaullisme, more Macro-fantasie.

2.  Less America, more Russia: As Macron wants to distance himself from the US, he also wants to move closer to Russia.  There is a strangely ‘zero sum’ quality to strategic Macronianism. The paradox here is that only though the strong presence of the US in Europe would any rapprochement with an inherently unstable and aggressive Russia be at all safe. Moreover, if less America, more Russia is really the basis for Macon’s future ‘strategic sovereignty’ very few other Europeans would ‘buy’ into it, and absolutely no-one east of the Oder-Neisse line.

3. The sheer cost of European military sovereignty: To replace the US-funded military-strategic architecture under which Europe’s deterrence and defence shelters would be immense.  It would also likely require the complete restructuring of the European defence technological and industrial base (EDTIB).  The recent experience of Galileo, Europe’s hugely expensive and alternative ‘GPS’ system, is a chilling example of the likely outcome of strategic Macronianism. Any such ambition would, and necessarily so according to Macron’s own time imperative, demand a rapid and massive taxpayer-funded investment in a raft of high-end European strategic defence enablers from satellites to air and fast sea lift. During a disastrous July software upgrade Galileo crashed. It is still not working properly. If one listens hard enough one can hear the European establishment trying to keep this quiet. Galileo, like the absurdly high-maintenance A400M military transport aircraft, is but another example of high-cost, low return European defence-industrial projects that have more political benefit than military. Plus ça change?

4. Common or collective? The only way for the architecture implicit in Macron’s vision to be afforded would be a much more integrated European defence effort, along the lines of the European Defence Union that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen favours. In fact, neither Paris nor, more importantly, Berlin are willing to countenance the loss of the national defence sovereignty Macron’s European military sovereignty would demand. And yet, deep military sovereignty is the essence of Macron’s vision, and the only way to balance the strategy, capability, technology and cost required.

5.   Public or private? Given the pace that new civilian technologies, such as artificial intelligence, are entering the battlespace, much of it American, transatlantic defence-strategic public private partnerships will become more not less vital to European defence. And yet, what Macron is proposing reeks of yet another of those French statist, protectionist European ‘solutions’.  Given the sorry state of Europe’s collaborative defence research and development and the uncomfortable relationship between defence policy and industrial policy in Europe, the likely result will be a Europe more not less vulnerable to twenty-first century warfare.  The European Defence Agency and the European Defence Fund? Amateur hour.

6.  Anglosphere versus Eurosphere: Perhaps the most hubristic of Macron’s ideas, and the greatest paradox therein, is Macron’s implicit suggestion that Europe could defend itself in the complete absence of ‘les anglosaxons’. Such an idea is utter and complete nonsense, and the reason why Berlin immediately dismissed Macron’s demarche.     

Right analysis, wrong solutions

For all of these paradoxes President Macron is essentially correct to demand Europeans do more for their own defence. It is time. However, he is dangerously wrong to believe that by doing more for their own defence Europeans should, or could, distance themselves from the Americans. No, the reason Europeans should do more for their own defence is because that is the only way NATO can and will survive as a meaningful deterrent and defender.  It is also the only way the Americans will, over time, be able to maintain their security and defence guarantee to Europeans.  The US is facing a growing challenge to its military power across the globe, most notably from an emergent, autocratic China. Like all the democracies it is also facing a growing threat across the 5Ds of twenty-first century warfare – disinformation, deception, destabilisation, disruption and implied or actual destruction.

Macron’s problem is that he confuses his strategic mission with his political mission. Gaullism sought to forge French political unity at home by talking France up abroad.  Macron is doing exactly the same by demanding other Europeans commit to an overtly French need for the Elysée to be seen to standing up to America in the name of Europe puissance. This, whilst privately French diplomats reassure the Americans about the vital importance of the Franco-American strategic partnership.  What is the French word for ‘hubris’ again?

The real strategic paradox is that the Americans will need capable European allies almost as much as Europeans needs Americans. The ‘West’ is now a global idea, not just a Euro-Atlantic place which Europeans need to help secure and defend.  A truly capable high-end, fast, first responder European Intervention Force that could operate to effect across twenty-first century multi-domain warfare would represent a real sharing of transatlantic strategic burdens. It is how best to realise more equitable burden-sharing between Americans and Europeans which Macron should address, rather than offering Macro-Gaullist European defence fantasies.  Indeed, more equitable burden-sharing is the surest route to strategic autonomy.

Here’s the cruncher, the real reason for greater European military ‘sovereignty’ is the precise opposite to the prescriptions of Macro-Gaullisme. Europeans need to become militarily stronger to the US to remain close to the Americans, increase their importance to DC, and thus exert the very influence over Washington’s strategic choices, the lack of which clearly frustrates President Macron.

Europe puissance or Macro-Gaullisme?

President Macron is right to try and shift Europe out of the defence no-man’s-land in which it has been mired for too long. However, whilst his analysis is essentially correct, the solutions he offers are doomed to fail. If France really wants to lead the way towards a more strategically autonomous Europe France must, at the very least, put its ‘argent’ where its ‘bouche’ is, and increase French defence expenditure to, say, 3% GDP. Don’t hold your breath! Perhaps the ultimate Macronian paradox is that the only way to begin realise his vision will be to make the 2019 NATO Military Strategy work. That means Europeans fulfilling the defence planning Christmas wish-list the Pentagon has suggested. Do that and the NATO Defence Planning Process might finally cease to be the greatest work of European fiction since Dickens, or do I mean Flaubert and his masterpiece about unfulfilled bourgeois aspiration, Madame Bovary.

Is NATO suffering “brain death”? No, but it does (again) have a French headache. Does Macron’s vision promise Europe puissance? Non! It is Macro-Gaullisme on the road to Europe faiblesse!  Is Macron right to push Europeans to become strategically serious, militarily-capable and to better understand their place and role in a dangerous world? As the Americans would say, ‘hell yes’!

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Berlin Wall 30 and the Fall of Germany

“This 9 November is an historic day. The GDR has announced, starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone. The gates in the wall stand wide open”.
Joachim Friedrichs, ARD Tagesthemen, 2300 hours, November 9, 1989

Berlin, Germany. November 7. Tears rolled down my cheeks. The sight of people power pulling apart parapets of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago this week was history in (e)motion. The true end of World War Two was happening before my eyes at a speed no-one had believed possible. With each epoch-ending strike of each pick-axe Ossis and Wessis sent a hot, sharp knife through the crime that was the 1945 Yalta Agreement under which peoples and lands had been handed over from Nazi to Soviet. My tears were tears of hope.

Here in Berlin thirty years later that grandest of grand moments has seemingly been replaced with something all the more stodgy: the Stollen cake parochialism of a Germany that is so much less than the parts of a hoped for greatness. Mired in endless petty politicking Berlin stumbles from one infighting crisis to another. The one-time ‘imperial’ capital of a once-future German Europe? Not even close. The real question is more whether a German Berlin or a Berliner’s Germany?

Europe’s 911 was not just a moment of hope. The prospect of a united Germany filled some with dread – France’s Francois Mitterrand and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher to the fore. Not for the first time it was the leadership of a US President, George H. W. Bush, who reassured Germany’s allies by re-committing the US to the balance of Europe in a balanced Europe. Helped, in no small measure, by Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s commitment to a single European currency – the then soon-to-be Euro – to ease French fears that Europe would be ‘crushed’ under the weight of the mighty Deutschemark. What few realised at the time was that the cost of Ossis to Wessis made any such threat a chimera of fear over reality.

Strange then that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas this week went out of his clumsy way to thank everyone else for Germany’s peaceful reunification but the Americans who had guaranteed it, or the British who in 1954 committed its forces at great cost to the permanent defence of the Federal Republic, and in so doing opened the way for one-time foe to join NATO, and fostered Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s dream of a ‘normal’ Germany. Critically, a France that overcame its historic fears to turn enmity into a partnership that with the 1962 Elysee Treaty became the bedrock upon which ‘Europe’ built its own edifice of freedom.  Herr Maas also slapped down an idea from his colleague, Defence Minister Anna Kramp-Karrenbauer, for a European Security Force in Syria to which Germany would contribute. German strategic responsibility? Don’t hold your breath.

My reason for being in Berlin was a meeting of The Alphen Group (TAG), the network of high-level, senior analysts and practitioners that I have the honour to chair. Our speaker for the day was one of the most senior insider-observer Germans. A man who knows and understands the very highest levels of this most late Roman of new Berlins. His message was stark: Germany is in a “period of funk”, drifting from stability to stagnation to stasis. The coming domestic crisis will emasculate German foreign policy, much of it caused by the endless Berlin political crisis of grand coalitions going towards a grand nowhere, other than sustaining their grand denizens in grand office. Indeed, the 'groko' is a bit like the massive Forth Railway Bridge in Scotland, ninety percent of which is simply there to hold the edifice up, whilst only ten percent is devoted to undertaking purpose.  

A consequent ‘reformstau’ which blocks all efforts to modernise an economy and society steadily losing the global competitive race of the twenty-first century. A Germany which simply occupies a map with no particular foreign policy and no particular view of towards Russia, China, the US and/or Brexit, and which lacks the sense of solidarity to have a vision for Europe. Worse, if Americans try to force Berlin to choose between Washington and Beijing the leader of the West might be surprised by Germany’s answer. It is an answer already implicit in the even more implicit Realpolitik of Heiko Maas’s “Union of Multilateralism”. Whither NATO?

What pains this Oxford historian, long a friendly, constructive but critical believer in this Germany, is the failure of vision of a Berlin that talks endlessly of little else. When all that really defines German foreign engagement is ‘wherever the money is, at whatever the strategic and political cost’ mercantilism, allied to a peculiarly German form of vacuous ‘do as we say, but not what we dare do’ internationalism. The fall of the ‘Wall’ was not simply about a glorious dawn in that dark, dank November Berlin night. It was about a Germany that finally been offered the chance to take its rightful, peaceful place at the heart of Europe’s eternally fractious story that it had for so long craved. A place that others guaranteed would not be threatened.

The importance of that moment cannot be over-stated. On three separate violent occasions Germans had tried to impose their place in Europe on Europeans. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the Great European War of 1914-1918, and the real World War of 1939-1945. The ghosts of those wars can never by laid completely to rest, and the millions of ghosts of murdered Nazi victims can never rest, something of which, legions of decent Germans are acutely aware.  That night in 1989 also led to something that would have been impossible even thirty years prior - a gift of trust in a future Germany Americans and other Europeans. A real gift of trust from those who had really won Germany’s right to be whole once again; Poles, Czechs and those millions of Europeans whose families had been scorch-earthed by past German power and its ambitions.

In return, Germany was asked to pay only the most reasonable of costs.  A truly western Germany would enshrine freedom at its core. And, any return of German power from provincial Bonn to once-imperial Berlin be paid for by German political and actual investment in the two institutions in which the gift was embodied – the EU and NATO. Thirty years on that gift, the promise it contained, and the institutions it served are being broken on the rock of Berlin’s visionless political parochialism and the strategic vacuum that too many German leaders confuse with strategic patience.

My tears now, as with so much today, are virtual tears. Odes to joy? No. Rather a sense of a grand European chance missed by a wannabe great country, led by a once (and future) grand city the parochialism of which is failing the test of power, too often of principle, and most certainly of leadership.  In so doing, THIS Germany has failed the hope of that wonderful Berlin night thirty years ago. A Germany that is also failing its own sternest of tests – Germany’s own history, and Europe’s possible future.

Why does Berlin matter? Neither Germany nor Europe can be secure until and unless Berlin’s political dragons of today finally get a grip of the demons of Germany’s past and set fair a course for a fair Europe with a fair Germany at its heart. In other words, if Europe and the transatlantic relationship really are as important to Berlin as it claims Germans need to start matching deeds to words.

Berlin Wall 30 and the fall of Germany.

Julian Lindley-French