Expeditionary warfare - too much capability is a bad thing

FORMER_FYRDMAN

LE
Book Reviewer
#1
Rather than derail any of the existing threads relating to capabilities and cuts, I'd like to pose the question: What benefits has the UK enjoyed from possessing an expeditionary capability for the last twenty or so years and has it done more harm than good? There are three points I'd like to put:

Firstly, because we have, or did have, the ability to project force, we have tended to base our responses around it without any regard to its limitations, particularly that, once the conventional phase of any conflict is over, conventional forces are a very blunt instrument for what follows. Consequently we have been involved in two unwinnable wars, we are unable to deal effectively with the two most likely current threats to what passes for world peace; North Korea and Iran, and we are viewed with huge suspicion across an area of vital strategic interest, namely the Arab world, which precludes any visible active role in helping to shape the future politics of the region. Essentially, the use of force over the last fifteen or so years has seriously compromised UK interests and cost us blood and treasure for little benefit.

Secondly, even if we got everything on our Christmas list, how would we actually use it to advance our interests in a world where the US is increasingly becoming less dominant militarily and where there are an increasing number of regional superpowers who could be reasonably expected to enjoy local superiority over any force we could project? We could, and probably would, go in with the US but what has that relationship delivered for UK plc since 1991? We still get hit by embargoes on the EU and the POTUS will bash BP if it suits. Building on this point, if we can't use our shiny toys to good effect by ourselves, wouldn't we be better putting our energies into other methods of effective engagement more appropriate to our global status and more affordable. Put another way, how often since 1945 have we been able to militarily bully a country into serving our interests through large scale solo conventional deployments? 1982?

Thirdly, and finally, much is said about the need for a global trader to be able to exert itself globally but is this really true? Some of the biggest international trading nations have no global power projection interest and absolutely no interest in acquiring one, indeed most of them are focused on robust home defence and good relations with the US: South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland, Germany and all of the Middle East oil producers, to name but a few. Even if we ramped the Navy back up and threw fully equipped CVF into the mix for good measure, what would we gain thereby? Do we truly want to spend billions we don't have for an uber-hostage rescue capability?

In short then, expeditionary power projection is a hangover from our imperial past, it has brought us precious little reward since 1945 and done considerable damage to our interests. It provides a temptation to meddle which our politicians can't resist and it dislocates the focus of our defence effort. The correct Defence strategy would be focused on homeland security (which includes the Falklands) and the maintenance of core capabilities to counter any conventional threat, the maintenance of the nuclear deterrent and the discharge of foreign policy obligations using Special Forces and a combination of naval and air assets which can be drawn from the home defence inventory and reassigned back there.
 
#2
Simple answer. Doesn't matter what capability we have or don't have, we're still run by idiots who are unable to grasp that newspaper headlines mean jackshit in the real world and perfectly happy to ignore every single drop of advise from professionals whilst accepting the word of an over promoted PR man.

The last 14 years of shite stains on our repuation are purely due to the vanity and weakness of one man.
 
#3
Well.

There have been a few examples of Post WWII use of british millitary force that have actualy worked.

Sierra Leone strikes me as one example. British Honduras/Belize as another.

These operations were done well and as a result dont really stand out. Both countries are mineral rich and certainly in the case of Belize there are extensive holdings by British intrests (and certain sponsors of the Tory party ;) ). not sure we got our moneys worth out of SL yet.

So we _can_ do it ...most noticeably when politicians dont try and micro manage it...but if its actualy _worth it_ to UK plc? Thats one for the accountants.
 
#4
Follow up question - whats more useful to the UK national interest - hard power (e.g. heavy metal army, Carrier navy) or soft power - eg training teams, DAs etc? Got some thoughts on this, but will type later. Personally I think soft power, while far less glamorous was far more effective at preserving UK interests globally than having an armoured division in Germany.
 

FORMER_FYRDMAN

LE
Book Reviewer
#5
Well.

There have been a few examples of Post WWII use of british millitary force that have actualy worked.

Sierra Leone strikes me as one example. British Honduras/Belize as another.

These operations were done well and as a result dont really stand out. Both countries are mineral rich and certainly in the case of Belize there are extensive holdings by British intrests (and certain sponsors of the Tory party ;) ). not sure we got our moneys worth out of SL yet.

So we _can_ do it ...most noticeably when politicians dont try and micro manage it...but if its actualy _worth it_ to UK plc? Thats one for the accountants.
I'd also throw in Confrontation, and Oman of course, but these were reltively small scale, light infantry/SF-based operations which the wider world hardly noticed and we got it right. Are we now being dragged into materiel-heavy COIN ops as plumber's mate to a larger US effort, which is not really our way of fighting short of an all-out war of national survival, but which makes us operationally compatible with the Yanks?
 

FORMER_FYRDMAN

LE
Book Reviewer
#6
Follow up question - whats more useful to the UK national interest - hard power (e.g. heavy metal army, Carrier navy) or soft power - eg training teams, DAs etc? Got some thoughts on this, but will type later. Personally I think soft power, while far less glamorous was far more effective at preserving UK interests globally than having an armoured division in Germany.
That's a good point. Obviously there's a degree of devil's advocate in the question but I am beginning to wonder whether, in working with the US as a junior partner for so long, we have inadvertently adopted a Defence/Diplomacy approach, with its inherent resource/casualty implications, which is somewhat alien from our traditional methods and which we are struggling to make work.
 
#7
That's a good point. Obviously there's a degree of devil's advocate in the question but I am beginning to wonder whether, in working with the US as a junior partner for so long, we have inadvertently adopted a Defence/Diplomacy approach, with its inherent resource/casualty implications, which is somewhat alien from our traditional methods and which we are struggling to make work.
Yes. I would argue that historically the British have run with a far more pragmatic and at times ruthless approach to these matters which has often worked _rather well_

We seem to have lost that particular plot sometime ...what in the mid 80's?
 

FORMER_FYRDMAN

LE
Book Reviewer
#8
Yes. I would argue that historically the British have run with a far more pragmatic and at times ruthless approach to these matters which has often worked _rather well_

We seem to have lost that particular plot sometime ...what in the mid 80's?
I think it started with GW1, our first heavy metal intervention of note since Suez and our first outing as America's junior partner since Korea. After that it was one US-led op after another (with the exception of Sierra Leone which was in our traditional mould and a success). I also wonder whether high profile intervention, such as the Americans seem to favour, doesn't tend to create its own opposition which complicates the political angle and leads to undue and debilitating interference from the politicians. Confrontation and Oman by contrast were essentially done behind the curtain and we successfully sustained the effort for years.
 
#9
Follow up question - whats more useful to the UK national interest - hard power (e.g. heavy metal army, Carrier navy) or soft power - eg training teams, DAs etc? Got some thoughts on this, but will type later. Personally I think soft power, while far less glamorous was far more effective at preserving UK interests globally than having an armoured division in Germany.


Yes, but that's not sexy and doesn't need humoungous big aircraft carriers to do.



In short then, expeditionary power projection is a hangover from our imperial past, it has brought us precious little reward since 1945 and done considerable damage to our interests. It provides a temptation to meddle which our politicians can't resist and it dislocates the focus of our defence effort. The correct Defence strategy would be focused on homeland security (which includes the Falklands) and the maintenance of core capabilities to counter any conventional threat, the maintenance of the nuclear deterrent and the discharge of foreign policy obligations using Special Forces and a combination of naval and air assets which can be drawn from the home defence inventory and reassigned back there.

Playing the USA's minime has gotten us into two rather expensive and pointless wars that have all but eroded our diplomatic standing and credibility in the world.
 
#10
I pretty much agree with the OP on all counts.

Your conclusion:

The correct Defence strategy would be focused on homeland security (which includes the Falklands) and the maintenance of core capabilities to counter any conventional threat, the maintenance of the nuclear deterrent and the discharge of foreign policy obligations using Special Forces and a combination of naval and air assets which can be drawn from the home defence inventory and reassigned back there.
Is in my mind spot on.

We are an isand country, 92% of our trade travels by sea, 10% of our citizens live abroad and we have 14 Overseas Territories to look after. We are a maritime nation, always have been. The navy should be the focus along with special forces, and increasingly cyber warfare capabilities. As you say, launching overseas interventions hasn't got us far.

And to add to your post further, we need a real change in our international alignment. Kowtowing to the US hasn't done us much good either.
 
#11
We are an isand country, 92% of our trade travels by sea, 10% of our citizens live abroad and we have 14 Overseas Territories to look after. We are a maritime nation, always have been. The navy should be the focus along with special forces, and increasingly cyber warfare capabilities. As you say, launching overseas interventions hasn't got us far.

And to add to your post further, we need a real change in our international alignment. Kowtowing to the US hasn't done us much good either.
There are historical reasons for our posture. Therefore, a future without history is like a river without streams - it can not happen; maintaining some capability from lessons learned across the board is needed: however is that at a company, battalion, brigade level etc - out of my experience. However, special forces as advocated on this thread but they come from a pool of people: you need the pool and the pool needs to be attractive for people to jump in: career, education etc. Is there any nation that just has special forces?

Therefore, thinking of UK defence based on concentric circles rippling outwards from the core UK and its attendant capability with each ever outwardly expanding circle having a greater, deeper capability than the original baseline might be the way to go; at this point, asking why is reasonable.

I think the nation needs to discuss and decide on our strategic goals and therefore accept the burden of funding defence based on those goals; as part of that discussion perhaps doing business with dictatorships needs to come out into the open, it is just too murky with oil for instance.

We are a trading nation and we trade with even those dictatorships. However, do we have to support them? Defend them? Back off from using force against them even at an appropriate time?

Diplomacy and force go hand in hand: we can have an immediate impact on our standing if we have the ability to use force and use force fast and hard: Bosnia - we failed, we were too timid (or there are great things I do not know), Sierra Leone, I think a good result. Libya could have been a good result but UK forces are under resourced and are away in the boonies of Afghanistan, as an aside are our forces are being bankrupted by US adventures? Do we perhaps need a little bit of US isolationism circa 1900's?

Should the US wish to expend vast amount of cash, why can we not let them - we heard the American on being rescued from Libya give his deeply felt heartfelt thanks, didn't we?

Therefore, I think you do need capability, you do need the ability to project power, but it should be concert with our nation held strategic objectives and for that, Joe Public needs to get involved because at the end of the day, we are going to pay.

Tea break over and would ask for forgiveness at my feeble attempts to write drivel in 5 minutes on a netbook!
 
#12
Kromeriz has it right, although I think that our defence posture has been distorted in a long term way by the cold war and the army-centricity which was necessary then. The lesson which we have to learn from the days of Empire is that Britain's strategic power was almost always naval, and we profited greatly from that. We were the first nation capable of truly operating globally, and that was how we prospered.
Since WWII Britain has had to maintain a large standing army in Germany to deter the Soviet Union, after that particular threat collapsed in 1990 we were left with a large army which we didn't know what to do with. So we used it, with all of its cold war heavy metal trappings. In 1991, 2001 and 2003 Britain involved itself in protracted and costly land wars at the behest of America. We simply cannot afford to continue this trend.
Personally I think that expeditionary warfare has a more key role in the UK's strategic interests than a powerful land army. Land armies are immensely restricted in how they can act due to the extremely overt force they represent when used. However, with a navy-centric armed forces the ability to exert a rapid, softer, pressure on an unfriendly nation exists.
I propose a new focus on expeditionary warfare, rather than the mantainance of an expensive heavy metal army, and a hard look at how Britain's ability to project its power globally can be best used to protect its economic and stategic interests worldwide.

We maintained our global pre-emimance in the past by avoiding expensive protracted wars, and focussing on what we can achieve with rapid and potent armed force with a global reach. This is what we should be aiming to regenerate now, rather than clinging to a huge pile of heavy metal kit which we cannot use unilaterally anyway.
 
#13
Follow up question - whats more useful to the UK national interest - hard power (e.g. heavy metal army, Carrier navy) or soft power - eg training teams, DAs etc? Got some thoughts on this, but will type later. Personally I think soft power, while far less glamorous was far more effective at preserving UK interests globally than having an armoured division in Germany.
Forgive the civvie view, but wasn't the HM in BAOR more about showing sufficient stones to the Yanks to keep their strategic focus on deterring Soviet agression than it was about actual firepower? Likewise US engagement in NATO encouraged the USSR to softpedal active support to the Yemenis et al.. Even since Glasnost and Perestroika I'm sure that given the Russian actions re Ukraine, Georgia new NATO members like Poland would still feel significant distress if the Rhino came home and there was an obvious weakening of pan-european commitment to defence in depth of the NATO area. Isn't some of this about the wars we didn't get to fight?
 
#14
Forgive the civvie view, but wasn't the HM in BAOR more about showing sufficient stones to the Yanks to keep their strategic focus on deterring Soviet agression than it was about actual firepower?
No

Likewise US engagement in NATO encouraged the USSR to softpedal active support to the Yemenis et al..
Also no.

Even since Glasnost and Perestroika I'm sure that given the Russian actions re Ukraine, Georgia new NATO members like Poland would still feel significant distress if the Rhino came home and there was an obvious weakening of pan-european commitment to defence in depth of the NATO area. Isn't some of this about the wars we didn't get to fight?
No.

However, you are forgiven for your misunderstanding of historical reality.
 
#15
No

Please explain, the numbers of reliable, non-us armoured units (us and the germans basically) in 60's 70's 80's NATO appear insufficient to deter agression without the threat of tactical nuclear agression, Tactical nuclear escalation doesn't seem credible without the threat of strategic escalation beyond the limits of UK nuclear forces. Such a threat was not possible without US commitment The US doesn't normally commit so far without some sign that allies will go the distance in a dust-up...


Also no.

Where the US were openly committed (vietnam, Israel,,,) the USSR were able to pour in massive quantities of materiel.. where things were kept low-key they didn't, are we really saying that despite the amount of tracer fired off by the Iranians that Dhofar would have gone quite so well had the Sov's felt free to push large amounts of kit, tech support and 'advice' on the PFLO?

No.

However, you are forgiven for your misunderstanding of historical reality.
Deterrence is a waste of time..?
 
#16
I'm also of the opinion that you need to maintain some form of 'heavy metal' be that armour, carriers or some other 'war winning' formations both for homeland defense or at least the apearence of it and more importantly as a flagship and recruiting resource.

If you're going to use 'soft power' then those nations you want to influence are going to have to be attracted to using your services. Various nations have very effective self defense and carde style operations. Very few of them get much intrest in defense sales or training gigs AFAIK. You need some form of glitzy heavy metal to stick on the front of the brochre...and also to promise the ability to come to the rescue when whoever you're training and supporting needs some backup. So if we're training, supplying and equipping some mineral rich developing nation (for example) we should have the capability to rock up with whats needed to help them out if they bite off more they can chew. Be that Marines/Para's, some armour, RAF squadrons, Gunships. With the aim of outclassing the oposition and forming a 'shock' element and letting the locals do the bulk of holding of ground, COIN, nation building, infanteer work (ie as much of the bleeding as possible not by UK forces).

Thinking about it what we're talking about is the French model isnt it? Independant and maybe not state of the art armour and systems but good enough for anyone you're liable to take on solo. Not that the French dont have their failures (CVN-Broken).

And I agree you dont need masses of CR2, Carriers or Typhoon sqdrns for that. However with what we DO have how do we use it? We're spending a lot of time training ANA currently but is the traditional structure suited to that task? (genuine question) Would the formation of cadre style units work better? Building MEU style formations used to deploying and working together with semi-oranic air and armour?
 
#17
Deterrence is a waste of time..?
Depends on the context.

However, your original post was an incoherent rambling about stones, Rhinos, Yemen and former Soviet Union states. What that had to do with an argument about deterrence is only for the fairies to comprehend.

Do you have a point or just more rambling?
 
#18
I pretty much agree with the OP on all counts.

Your conclusion:



Is in my mind spot on.

We are an isand country, 92% of our trade travels by sea, 10% of our citizens live abroad and we have 14 Overseas Territories to look after. We are a maritime nation, always have been. The navy should be the focus along with special forces, and increasingly cyber warfare capabilities. As you say, launching overseas interventions hasn't got us far.

And to add to your post further, we need a real change in our international alignment. Kowtowing to the US hasn't done us much good either.

I do love the 'we are an island' arguments for Strategic Raiding i.e. more toys for the RN/FAA and they seem rather fashionable after protracted overseas adventures but it is a fundamentally flawed strategy.

The proposal is always liberally sprinkled with percentages and facts and figures quoted by people who pick them up third hand with no understanding of what is behind them.

Of that 92% how much in intra Europe and between UK mainland and NI

Of the 10% UK citizens living abroad, how many live in Europe/USA/Australia

Of the 14 overseas territories how many of them are in the Caribbean, in the middle of nowhere, garrisoned by lots of good ole boys or inhabited by a handful if kiddie fiddlers

If we really want to get all **** about being an island we might want to look at ports and harbour security, mine countermeasures, food and energy diversity and a million and one things that actually improve the security of the UK but singularly do not need big ships and and expeditionary capability.

On Jim30's point, I think we get much more actual security from defence diplomacy, building regional security capacity, mentoring and related activity than having to wade in with our meagre resources after it has all kicked off.

This means an outward looking posture of engagement, not sitting back, polishing our shiny new toys and sallying forth very occasionally to deliver pin prick 'raids'

FF, yes, I agree with what you are saying in parts but we can't sit back and fail to engage with the world, we are a great power and using that power including all the soft tools like overseas development aid, education, culture (even the X Factor) and trade means that we an still achieve our strategic goals which should boil down to 'what's in it for us'
 
#19
On Jim30's point, I think we get much more actual security from defence diplomacy, building regional security capacity, mentoring and related activity than having to wade in with our meagre resources after it has all kicked off.

This means an outward looking posture of engagement, not sitting back, polishing our shiny new toys and sallying forth very occasionally to deliver pin prick 'raids'

FF, yes, I agree with what you are saying in parts but we can't sit back and fail to engage with the world, we are a great power and using that power including all the soft tools like overseas development aid, education, culture (even the X Factor) and trade means that we an still achieve our strategic goals which should boil down to 'what's in it for us'
Now I know why I shouldn.t try to write things in a tea break. I agree with your points.
However, PLEASE, no more X factor.
 

Similar threads

New Posts

Latest Threads

Top