‘Operation Faran’ which although unnamed at the time had its roots in the ill-conceived SDSR 2010 strategy review and was based on a plan that intended to return the 20,000 Army military and civilian personnel and their families then deployed in Germany back to the UK by 2020 has, we are told, entered the final stage of returning the remaining 11,000 personnel and vast amounts of military equipment back home by the end of the summer.
At the time of the 2010 announcement then Prime Minister, David Cameron said that there was no longer any operational requirement for United Kingdom forces to be based in Germany and that as a consequence, all but 250 military staff members that are based in Germany for other specific purposes, would be brought home.
Ignoring the huge benefits of the trop training areas that UK bases in Germany had access to and particularly in relation to tank and other operational training, Mr. Cameron reasoned that rather than consider the important defence, political diplomatic and NATO related aspects of our maintaining troops in Germany, the Government decision had been made on the basis that keeping troops their imposed major financial costs on the UK, disruption on personnel and their families and the availability of “opportunity costs” in terms of wider Army coherence.” Words almost fail me but then, the former Member of Parliament for Witney never really did understand the vital importance of defence.
Personally, I fear that ‘Operation Faran’ could well be a £2 billion mission that the UK will ultimately live to regret. I note this morning that my old friend Professor Julian Lindley-French beat me to it this morning when he tweeted that as the “British Army begins final withdrawal from Germany, last significant UK force [in] Continental Europe”[reminding us also that the] British Army of the Rhine twice occupied Germany, assured 1955 NATO membership and became trusted defender and friend of Germans. With hard Brexit [potentially] beckoning [the] symbolism [is] sad and powerful”
I completely agree Julian’s sentiments and deep down I feel rather bitter that we are now being seen to be walking away from a very special, strategically and politically important military working relationship with a major NATO ally.
Army and Royal Air Force personnel have at some point been based in Germany ever since 1945 although the Royal Air Force presence, which I might add at one time extended to the operation of 12 bases in Germany with over 200 aircraft being stationed there at peak (note that after 1955 the bulk of these bases were handed over to the newly formed German Air Force) until the last base, RAF Bruggen, was closed in 2001 and thus ended a continuous presence by the RAF in Germany that had begun 56 years earlier.
No one is suggesting that the UK was wrong to seriously cut the number of troops and air power related personnel assets in Germany after the ‘Cold War’ supposedly ended but to walk away completely without facing any pressure from Germany to so do smacks to me of a lack of or, if it existed at all, failure of defence strategy. FYI, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1993 the numbers of Army personnel were cut from 53,000 (more than half the current level of UK Army personnel) to 25,000. By 2010 the level had fallen to 20,000.
The decision to remove remaining UK troops from Germany was seen by many of us at the time as being yet another signal of the UK seeking to reduce its international role and standing in the world. However, my larger fear now is that the decision plays into the hands of a French desire to have a European Army just as it is also damaging to the NATO alliance as a whole. Giving up such a high level of presence in Continental Europe and in the largest economy in Europe at this time also gives a lie to recently expressed UK political ideals of our wishing to play an extended role in the world. It doesn’t exactly assist in respect of a no-deal Brexit either.
According to press reports ‘Operation Faran’ has required the MOD to invest close to £2 billion in infrastructure build and others costs in order to fully support the move and which, apart from huge transport requirements for personnel, their families and equipment, has included the building of well over 1,000 new homes/accommodation together with sports and other facilities being built for non-deployed and returning troops from Germany including upgrading of existing property and many other requirements.
On a non-related business reason, earlier this year I once again had occasion to spend two days at Larkhill Barracks, one that has probably the finest Officers Mess of any military base in the UK. Amongst other requirements, Larkhill is home of the Royal School of Artillery. Larkhill and is today to be considered as one of the principle Army garrison in the Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire area. My point of mentioning this is that I was both pleased and equally shocked to note the massive level of new accommodation construction taking place and that has also required major infrastructure modernisation.
Other accommodation has I believe been built at nearby Bulford and Tidworth Barracks. In addition, returning troops from Germany have also been housed at a number of recently closed Royal Air Force bases now taken over permanently by the Army and which include the former RAF Kinloss and RAF Leuchars in Scotland and the former RAF Lyneham base in Wiltshire which is now home to the Corps of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME).
The decision is made and can hardly be revered. I for one very much regret this and I fear that it may not be long before we as a nation also do.
(Commentary will appear spasmodically over the next three weeks)
CHW (London – 13th April 2019)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785