Another fourteen days before I can sensibly and meaningfully begin to talk about UK defence in detail again but for all that I was pleased to see RUSI’s Duncan Depledge and Caroline Kennedy-Pipe publish a very interesting commentary yesterday (Britain, Estonia and the Wide North) that call on the next UK Government to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of NATO’s efforts to secure its Baltic members.
In this excellent and detailed piece and which is available on the RUSI Website, they argue that Britain requires an expansive [military] strategy that covers not just the High North, as has been touted since 2018, but one that also incorporates a vision of a Wider North, meaning the necessity of viewing the security of the Baltic states in tandem with that of our Nordic allies.
In a separate report yesterday entitled ‘The Future of Fires: Maximising the UK’s Tactical and Operational Firepower’ and which appears based around our being the largest NATO spender in in Europe and the ability we have to take a leading role in countering threats and ensuring the safety and security of the British people at home and abroad, it is with regret that the report has found it necessary to view that UK [land] capabilities would, in the unlikely event of a high intensity conflict between NATO and Russia, in which Britain had promised to deliver a warfighting division would, the report suggested, “at present, there is a risk that the UK – unable to credibly fight – can be dominated lower down the escalation ladder by powers threatening escalation”. The report also suggested that in the early stages of a conflict with Russia, the Royal Air Force would likely look to ground forces to provide supporting firepower.
The report adds that given that this firepower does not exist within ground forces (a point that I am sure will be strongly argued against by the MOD) it may be concluded that at present Britain lacks a credible or competitive warfighting capability in the context of our being within a conflict in Eastern Europe against Russia”.
As many of you know, apart from personnel numbers being well below target and soon likely to be targeted even lower, together with certain elements of large British Army equipment such as Boxer, Warrior, Challenger and Ordnance, I rarely stray into Army related matters. However, my personal view is that the main thrust of this report in regard of land equipment and front-line troop capability lacking is more than probably correct.
By the way, I have no idea where suggestions in relation to lack of ground force firepower in regard of supporting RAF operations has come from but let me reassure that provided the Royal Air Force was not, for instance, fighting on too many fronts at any one time, it would be very unlikely in my view that the RAF would be forced to seek to look only at ground forces to provide firepower. Force Protection yes, but not pure firepower!
Even so, knowing them so well as I do and in recognising their crucial role and importance, let me tell you that the Royal Air Force Regiment is not only conducting all the various Force Protection elements asked of it but is also working hard in order to build the Next Generation of Force Protection for what we now all regard as being, a next generation Royal Air Force.
While it is of course perfectly true to say that during the period of marked increase in threats and vulnerabilities that we have seen increasing over the past seven years that numbers of those involved in RAF Force Protection has continued to decline. To be truthful, since 2007 the RAF Regiment has lost no fewer than 8 regiment squadrons with a ninth in the form of CBRN due to be stood down next year. The time has come to reverse this.
While those engaged in Force Protection remain absolutely committed to making the Royal Air Force the best fighting force it is true that due to cuts that emanated out of SDSR 2010 they are now struggling to do all that is asked of them. Bottom line is that the RAF regiment appears to be defending 5th Generation assets and people with what is arguably, 2nd/3rd Generation Force Protection equipment.
For all that, be in no doubt that Force Protection within the Royal Air Force remains very fit for purpose and remains ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. WE may question capacity and equipment but never the will to do. Equally true to remind that the RAF Regiment is also now busily engaged on leveraging technology to achieve more with less (this principally people) albeit with very limited external investment mean that the full opportunities may not be fully realised.
Angela Merkel Once Again Stands Up For NATO
Once again, much to the annoyance of French President Emmanuel Macron no doubt, it was very pleasing yesterday to hear German Chancellor Angela Merkel launching another spirited defence of NATO. “The transatlantic alliance is more important to Europe’s security today than it was at the height of the stand-off with the Soviet Union” Mrs Merkel told the German parliament, “More even than during the Cold War – it is in our own best interests to maintain NATO” she told MP’s adding that “Europe cannot defend itself.”
Describing NATO as a “bulwark of freedom and peace,” Mrs Merkel made it abundantly clear that Germany is “particularly indebted to our American friends.”.
Mrs. Merkel’s comments came in a budget debate in parliament in which she pledged to increase German defence spending to 1.5% of GDP by 2024 and to reach the official NATO target of 2% of GDP by the 2030’s.
CHW (London – 28th November 2019)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785