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UK Defence 12

By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partners

06 Oct 10. I have very little idea of how General Sir Richard Dannatt was regarded by his former colleagues or whether they believed he proved to be an excellent Chief of the General Staff or not but I do know that Britain should be grateful that he did not become Chief of the Defence Staff. Yet again rather than attempt a balanced view for future defence capability needs of all three armed forces and the nation as a whole General Dannatt has chosen a path that seeks only to further devalue the vital roles that both the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy play. General Dannatt is entitled to his view of course but repeated attempts to devalue individual aspects of RAF and RN capability such as carrier strike force and air power are in my view damaging to the point of being unacceptable.

The comments to which I refer may be found in an article from General Dannatt in the Daily Telegraph today. Whilst rightly pointing to there being little [political and public] appetite in to further reduce the UK role on the world stage General Dannatt believes “that there is will be no credible conventional threat to our territorial integrity for the foreseeable future”. How can he possibly say this I ask? Does the vociferous and sometimes outspoken General know something that the rest of us don’t? Does he not realise damage that similar views back in the 1930’s had in leaving us so ill prepared for a huge war that followed and so badly exposed? Has he failed to realise that despite the duty of care we have to our own people, to our allies, to our dependent territories not one single conflict that we have been involved over the past forty years had been foreseen as being a potential conflict in the making just one year before? Does he really know better than history? Is he really so arrogant as to believe that history should no longer be seen as a reliable guide to our future? On one hand General Dannatt appears to praise a decision that might push back replacement of our nuclear deterrent and yet on the other prefers to ignore the value of Royal Navy and Royal Air Force capability as a deterrent. He says that there is no necessity for air power to be deployed from platforms at sea in support of British operations choosing to completely ignore that it was only due to having a carrier based force with sufficient air power capability that allowed UK forces to regain control of the Falkland Islands? Indeed, neither he nor the rest of us should ignore that it was the combination of carrier based airpower that allowed strikes against Iraq during the first Gulf War, in Kosovo and Serbia, in Iraq in 2003 and initially in Afghanistan. Carriers and the air group that they carry can be very quickly tailored for any mission but most important of all in my view is that the presence and knowledge that Britain has a capable, manoeuvrable, self-sustaining command and control platforms from which coordinated multi agency operations can take place provides all the evidence an enemy needs of Britain’s potential strategic intent. A carrier force along with the additional vital support provided by other Royal Navy surface ships is thus a deterrent effect in its own right.

General Dannatt’s comment that possession of one or two carriers is highly desirable though not essential may be taken as a complete failure to comprehend the underlying deterrent value of a carrier force, the ability that it has to deter, to contain and when necessary, to coerce those that threaten UK interests plus the ability that carrier force has to provide for precision strike inland, to provide air cover for land forces without having to rely on host nation support accessibility, basing or over flying permission.

Surely worse though is the blatant disregard of General Dannatt to understand the value of air power. Referring to what he termed graduated readiness which I will not attem

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