SDSR - Dig beneath the hyperbole and its not all that bad? My own assessment

Discussion in 'Strategic Defence & Spending Review (SDSR)' started by jim30, Oct 21, 2010.

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  1. I’ve been travelling back to HERRICK from R&R over the past few days, so managed to miss the SDSR announcements and initial reactions. However, one comment from a mate of mine at KAF seemed to perhaps sum up a point of view not widely appreciated – when asked how it had gone, his reaction was ‘dig beneath the surface reactions, and it’s not as bad as it seemed, or could have been’.

    I think this is an interesting take, so wanted to try and put into words my thinking about how despite the desperate hyperbole out there (yes, I’m looking at you pro CVF brigade!), the actual result isn’t actually as bad as its made out to be.

    From my perspective the SDSR seems to be tackling the problem of a huge overspend, dire economic position and much needed update on the UKS strategic direction in one go. This is never a good starting point for a review, as its never clear how much of the end result is actually ‘strategic’ and not ‘budget’ driven. That said, the National Security Strategy (NSS) makes a pretty good stab at setting out the threats that we face, and putting the UKs key weakness areas on display. Any discussion of the end result of SDSR force levels has to be set against the realities of the NSS issues – decrying the UK for losing its sovereign ability to kick the door in, is pointless if the NSS quite rightly recognises that we’re not really doing that anymore.

    My assessment then is that if you look at the force levels and the decisions taken to remove elements from service in 2 contexts, some of it isn’t actually that bad. Firstly, lets consider force structures against NSS mandated threats to the UK. Secondly, lets consider the force structure of 2020 as being the point at which the UK is able to operate again – we’re clear that HERRICK ends in 2014/15, and its equally clear that the recuperation, force regeneration and retraining to ‘peacetime’ capability is going to take 4-5 years. In other words, when we talk of a 10 year plan, it makes a lot of sense – HM Forces will not have the physical ability to do much beyond HERRICK anyway until 2015, and then we will be so broken, and the political appetite for intervention will be so weak, that its unlikely that we’ll see any significant ‘imperial adventures’ until this point at the earliest. So in those circumstances, the ‘big 4’ threats (namely Terrorism, Disasters, Cyber, Alliance Warfare) make a compelling argument for future priorities.

    One thing that I was most struck by was the lack of emphasis on our wider multi-lateral commitments outside of ISAF. I didn’t spot a single reference to the FPDA for instance. It is clear that the ‘East of Suez’ Mentality which has permeated thinking for years is being de-emphasised in favour of a more ‘hands off’ approach. It will be interesting to see how this sits with our allies in the far east.

    Labour would have done the same - This is a key point we need to get about the SDSR. None of the options on display seemed new or innovative. I have no doubt at all that had a labour government done this SDSR, then we’d have seen almost identical results – for all the talk of it being a strategic review, it doesn’t seem to have generated any new or exciting options for the MOD.

    CVS & The Escort Fleet
    The most significant arguments seem to revolve around the RN and its decision to go to 19 escorts and lose a carrier. To my mind, this hyperbole is somewhat overblown - the RN has always been clear that we would lose the 3 Invincibles in 10,12,15 respectively, and the GR9 OSD was always aligned to coincide with that. Even if the decision not to lose GR9 had been taken, we’d have faced a ‘carrier gap’ in 2014 anyway as the Royal approached OSD. This decision is merely bringing forward the same gap as before.
    What impact does losing GR9 actually have on the RN – well its hard to tell. On the one hand there is the natural loss of pride that comes from losing fixed wing aviation. However, as a hard headed realist would note, the RN has been out of the fixed wing carrier business since FA2 went OSD. Since that point we’ve only seen occasional deployments by CVS with a GR9 airwing embarked, usually a maximum of 6 aircraft. In other words, since 2004, the RN has been unable to deploy more than 6 planes to sea anyway, and to all intents and purposes was a non fixed wing deploying nation anyway from 2006 – 2009 when the GR9 was in HERRICK. In other words, we’ve not actually really had a carrier fixed wing capability now for nearly half a decade – we’ve done the odd short deployment, but to all intents and purposes, the RN has been out of the fixed wing game for some time now.

    So, while some of the posters here bemoan the loss of CVS as some kind of mortal death blow to the RN, I’m far more sanguine about it. Ultimately GR9 provided us with the ability to put a tiny number of airframes to sea, which when set against the context that the UK isn’t planning on using carrier borne airpower for strike purposes anyway for the next 10 years, makes little sense to retain the GR9 capability beyond seedcorn capability for the CVF.

    Now when we talk about regeneration of skills, this is where I do worry – its going to be several years before the RN gets to do fixed wing flying again, and in this time many pilots will leave. I really hope that a clever plan is in place to ensure that we get retain the skills required for CVF, otherwise we’re going to look pretty bloody stupid having a carrier with no planes. This is my big worry – I cant think of a single navy that has ever successfully regenerated carrier capability after such a long gap, so I’d like to know how the RN is going to manage it.

    As for the escort fleet, well to be honest I’m fairly relaxed about the cut to 19 hulls. To all intents and purposes the RN has been operating with 19 hulls for years – dig beneath the fleet stats and you’ll see that the residual 42s are barely floating and not deployable. To all intents, the RN has managed to meet its commitments with a lot less than 23 hulls for some time now.

    The SDSR seems to make clear that we’ll continue doing the 3 traditional tasks (UK home waters, West Indies and South Atlantic) and then do East of Suez and Piracy as available. To my reckoning a fleet of 19 escorts will give us about 15 available and in the programming cycle at any one time – so 4 deployed, 1 in home waters as FRE, and then 10 spare for work up / work down / surge capacity. Its tight, but not much more so than recent years.
  2. Amphibiosity - The cuts to the Amphib fleet look bad on the face of it, with the loss of an LPD and LSD(A). However, having dug about a bit, it seems we’re looking to retain the ability to dump roughly 2000 troops on hostile soil and recover them. This is a reduction in previous planning assumptions, but one that does make quite a bit of sense – we’ve not had the ability to do a proper amphibious assault for some years now – the RM commitment to HERRICK means our amphib forces have only really worked at roughly 2000 boots ashore now for a few years. Additionally looking back to the strategic context, 2000 troops is a figure commensurate with the much vaunted ‘SSFI’ (Small Scale Focused Intervention) capability, enabling us to put people ashore for a short raid, or recovery of UK persons. Given that we’ve said we’re not seeking to carry out a wider operation till at least 2020, and given that sticking 4-6000 troops ashore (which seems roughly previous levels) is not so much a raid, but a statement of intent to take out a lease on the local property market, then the reduction to the amphib fleet makes strategic sense.

    SSN Fleet - Delighted to see that there is a commitment to 7 Astutes – this seems to make sense now that Trident is delayed as it will provide a drumbeat capability for the Barrow yard. My key concern though is what force levels do in the build up to 7 hulls – will we see a dip to 6, or even 5, in the next few years as the older T boats pay off? My concern is that although we aspire to 7, we may end up with a significantly smaller SSN fleet for a prolonged period.

    The Strange Death of the Fleet Air Arm - To my mind, one of the most disturbing aspects of the SDSR process has been the way in which the FAA has lost both the fixed wing and commando helicopter force. One of the little noticed paragraphs is that the SK fleet will pay off in 2016, but there appears to be mass confusion over the Merlin. At present it looks like the Merlin Mk 3 will not be transferring from the RAF to the RN, and that the RAF has become the new provider of the CHF. At a stroke the RN has lost its littoral capability, and a 10 year capability gap on the fixed wing community. At the moment its looking increasingly difficult for the RN to justify the continued existence of the FAA – no FW pilots, no CHF assets, merely 30 odd Merlin and 30 odd Lynx. How much longer till the RAF moves to absorb the FAA into its ORBAT?

    No news on MARS - One of my main concerns is the complete blackout with regards to the MARS tanker project. This is essential to the future of the RN if we are to remain a blue water navy. We need 5-6 tankers soon as our current ones are rapidly running out of life, so the lack of news on them is a major concern. The RFA is in a dire state for its tankers and replenishment ships, yet all funds seem to have been diverted to feed the hungry behemoth that is CVF – I think this is a major mistake.

    MPA Woes - The decision that I am most concerned about is without doubt the removal of the Nimrod from service. While I can see the logic in not proceeding (9 airframes = 3 deployable ones), and accept that the project was doomed from the moment we dropped below 10 airframes, it is still madness that we will be running an SSBN operation without fast on call ASW capability. This is going to place a much heavier burden on the extant ASW forces – could we see a new Merlin det up in Prestwick again to help with the ‘delousing’ process in future?

    My expectation is that we’ll see UK coastguard eventually acquire some form of cheap MPA, but that the UK has taken a major capability hit in this area. Of all the decisions in the SDSR, this is the one I disagree with the most.

    Overall Assessment
    The SDSR was always going to be painful, but I think it came as a big shock to a lot of people at just how many sacred cows were slaughtered. That said though, its clear that the RN has actually not done too badly out of SDSR – its keeping the fleet at roughly the same level as before, and applying realism measures rather than actual pain measures for the most part.
    I remain disappointed that the review hasn’t been genuinely strategic in nature, and that many areas in defence begging for reform have yet to be looked at. It feels a lot like a ‘lets do the same as before, but only with a bit less kit’ review, rather than anything truly groundbreaking.
  3. I recall reading we are putting people through the full USN carrier qualifications programme, that would be F/A-18's currently, but it does seem to suggest a cunning plan is in place to build up a cadre of fixed wing USN ops compliant skilled people in the wilderness years.

    Ah, yes, found it on pprune, it's a Janes article.

    RN sends cadre of pilots to train on US carriers

    "A larger than usual number of UK pilots are taking part in carrier training in the US

    The move may indicate that the UK favours a commitment to conventional aircraft launched by catapult rather than a STOVL platform

    An uprecedented number of UK Royal Navy (RN) Harrier pilots have begun training for catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) carrier operations in the United States, information obtained by Jane's has revealed.

    The news further fuels rumours that the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) may be re-assessing its previous commitment to fulfilling the UK's Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) requirement with the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), instead opting for a conventional aircraft launched by catapult.

    The latter could be the F-35C carrier variant of the JSF, which has a greater range and payload capability than the JSF STOVL variant and also costs less per unit, or even the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet on which the UK pilots are likely to be certified. The RN's two future Queen Elizabeth-class carriers that would operate the JCA are designed for, but not yet fitted with CATOBAR equipment.

    The programme for this exchange of aviators is much larger than normal and was apparently initiated in April when a senior US Navy (USN) officer announced training and squadron integration for 12 UK pilots. This officer then briefed the US Commander Naval Air Forces (CNAF) in mid-April.

    Sources who spoke to Jane's on condition of anonymity state that the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OpNav) is "driving the requirement and the CNAF is implementing [it]". Given the high level of support, the training and timing for the programme will be high priority for the local F/A-18 fleet replacement training squadrons (FRSs).

    USN sources anticipate that this training programme will be scheduled so that the RN will have 12 fully qualified carrier pilots by 2012. They did not mention whether or not any of these 12 would be trained for the rear-cockpit weapon systems officer (WSO) position in two-seat carrier aircraft or as landing signals officers (LSOs).

    According to the programme plan, eight of the 12 pilots will complete a full syllabus on the Boeing/BAE Systems T-45 jet trainer (a carrier-capable version of the BAE Systems Hawk Mk 60) and a full CAT I syllabus on the F/A-18 Hornet. The CAT I syllabus has recently been designated as the pilot certification training for the F/A-18. Three pilots will complete a partial T-45 syllabus and a full CAT II F/A-18 syllabus, which is the training for qualified pilot transition to the F/A-18. The training regime for the 12th and last pilot has not been specified, but it is anticipated that he will conduct some T-45 Goshawk training and a full CAT I or II syllabus that includes day/night landing carrier qualification. Eleven of the UK pilots will join USN fleet squadrons and will be flying both C/D legacy Hornet and E/F Super Hornet models of the F/A-18. The 12th pilot will remain at one of the FRS locations as an exchange pilot.

    The RN pilots will also fly US Marine Corps (USMC) McDonnell Douglas/BAE Systems AV-8B Harrier IIs.

    It is the much larger number of pilots included (typical exchange programmes with the USN involve only two or three pilots) along with the additional training involved that suggest this pilot training programme is not part of a standard exchange tour.

    "It's typical to take the RAF [Royal Air Force]/RN guy to the carrier for some 'good deal' [carrier] traps," said the USN source, "but they go in daytime only and are scheduled on a 'not to interfere with [regular USN] student traps' basis. In other words they do not have a quota. All 12 of the RN pilots addressed by this training will have a quota."

    Asked about the reasoning behind the programme, one source told Jane's that it is designed to "give additional STOVL and cat-and-trap experience and provide invaluable 'big deck' familiarisation prior to introduction of Queen Elizabeth . It will also further strengthen the bonds between the USN, USMC and RN".

    In conjunction with Jane's reports in July that the UK MoD is continuing to contract Converteam UK for the design, development and demonstration of an electro-magnetic catapult system, news of a cadre of UK pilots being carrier trained would seem to confirm the ministry is reassessing its carrier options. The contractual decision on what variant of F-35 to buy does not have to be made until early in 2011, although RN sources indicated to Jane's in July that the B/C decision would be made as part of the UK's Strategic Defence and Security Review process, so a decision could come this year even if no contract is signed."

    Royal Navy to Buy F18F - Page 12 - PPRuNe Forums
  4. Jim,

    A thoughtful assessment which cuts through the hypebole that we've all (myself emphatically included) have been guilty of in the last few days.

    I broadly agree with your assessment from an RN perspective. The Nimrod decision is probably the worst single thing to come out of the SDSR. I can't rationalise it. The confusion re Merlin and the CHF needs to be resolved. Is the FAA really going to lose the junglies?

    The real test for the review, however, is whether it will be properly funded and followed through, or will we see a repeat of the post 1998 situation where aspiration was not matched by money.
  5. So what happens if the Falklands are invaded by Argentina and an ally?
  6. "So what happens if the Falklands are invaded by Argentina and an ally?"

    Then we're into a game changing set of events which would take several years to push through. The Argentines haven't the ability to invade now, and even if they wanted to, it would take over a decade to put together the forces to take onthe MPA garrison, hold the islands and secure the seas.
  7. Some good points there Jim, one I would contend however is in regard to Amphibiosity: Certainly the quotes I have from work in the last couple of days state that we will be limited to one Commando/Battalion sized amphibious commitment and not a Brigade commitment. I don't know where you got your figures, but mine are from the 2SL/CGRM handout. Not trying one one-upmanship here, just a clarification on the 2000 troops amphibious capability you stated. Definitely in my line of work the SDSR was/is seen as a kick in the teeth for COMUKAMPHIPFOR.
  8. I agree with the OP. Another thing to bear in mind is a lot of the stuff that is being 'cut' is actually being mothballed and will be avaialbe if, god forbid, there is a time of national crisis requiring them or if the economic conditions improve
  9. I think the "well thought out analysis" is well and good, however I'm seeing more and more pissed-off matelots as the days pass. The effect on morale has been massive, and all we're promised is "jam tomorrow"; the similar jam we were offered over CVF, which saw a reduction in FF/DD from 32 to 19. And if you think we'll get 1:1 replacement of the T23 you have to be off you head.

    2020 will not see a "restored capability", it will see the RN continue to draw down. The only way I can see this not happening is if we have a major maritime incident that can't be resolved in a week or two, and HMG see quite how much they can't do.....
  10. Unfortunately, such a situation would require the 1SL to say "no" or for a lot of Matelots going for an unanticipated swim. The former is unlikely and the latter undesirable.
  11. I'd like to echo jim30's main thrust but by looking at it from a slightly different angle.

    Our armed forces are in their entirety a contingency force; they are there 'just-in-case'. If the honest assessment is that there are few military threats to the UK and its interests, then there is little need for a large standing military. Many countries around the world have SIGNIFICANTLY smaller and less capable armies than we - even when taken relative to their population size or economic capacity - and their security seems to be in no worse shape than ours.

    Going back to '97 and the arrival of New Labour and SDR98, there was a very strong possibility that the armed forces would be cut back to unbelievable low levels as socialist excesses in welfare and other similar budgets overwhelmed defence. However, they surprised us all by keeping the military at about the same scale. The reason for this was simple: instead of being a contingency force to protect the UK, the armed forces were now to become a global 'force-for-good'. New Labour had found a new job for all those steely-eyed killers sitting around in barracks with nothing to do.

    The doctrine and policy of foreign intervention as a 'force-for-good' has utterly, UTTERLY failed. Not only has it failed, but it has been discredited. And, not only that, it has shown up the huge weaknesses and resistance in our military structure to do intervention properly - ie at the scale required. Not even the economic, political and military might of the US has succeeded; what chance have we beyond a VERY small scale effort?

    In my opinion, it is quite right and proper (blindingly obvious) that we pull back from this disasterous and discredited foreign policy doctrine. It is right and proper to re-evalute the scale and capabilities of out military in this light. And, even with the best will in the world, the arguments suggesting a smaller force will always win.

    Moreover, it is becoming more widely recognised, that the 'power projection' philosophy of having large or kinetically powerful forces as coercive or deterrent effects is losing credibility as likely threats move away from the state level and into the non-state actor or by non-conventional means. Post Cold War evidence suggests that waving big sticks is becoming more counter-productive than effective. At best, it presents a degree of containment to state actors, but little else. Indeed, the might and use of the US military has provided one of the biggest recruiting tools to Islamic terrorism. Al-Qaeda has clevely used America's 'power projection' as one of its weapons!

    If we're moving away from poncing around the world upsetting or threatening the locals, then it becomes harder to justify 'large' contingency forces 'just-in-case'. If the 'real' threats to UK security are terrorism, transnational criminality, cyber warfare and so on, then surely it is quite right to readjust resources away from a 'large' standing military contingency force into areas better equipped to deal with these threats.

    Two very solid arguments why a scaling back of the UK's military was inevitable in the 21st Century, with nothing really to push the argument in the other direction other than 'nobody knows the future'. And I still haven't got to the state of the finances or the procurement mess!

    The country is almost bankrupt and the last government has tied military procurement into a number of MASSIVE big ticket items that are, it seems, inescapable. The total budget was always going to be cut; it was just a question of how much. Given the awful contractual deals struck by New Labour, a huge hit in existing capabilities and force levels was inevitable - just to pay for those big ticket items.

    Thus, and in agreement with jim30, I really think it could have been so much worse. Had New Labour been in power, and decided to ditch intervention policy altogether, I can quite imagine the Army becoming a 'Home Guard', the RAF standing on point defence of the UK mainland and the Navy running annual cruises with their carrier with almost nothing on the deck and no ability to do anything other than cocktail parties. In effect building strategy around the last remaining bits of kit left in the inventory. At least the ConservaLibDems seems to have tried to make some sort of dinner out of the ingredients.

    I understand why both an LPD and an LSD are going viz-a-viz the notional scale of future amphibious landings, but is a shame since they would be FAR better platforms to conduct the 4 remaining (peacetime) standing tasks than the escorts. Evidence suggests our escorts are quite unsuited to counter-narcotic, counter-piracy and so on. Amphibious ships are also FAR better suited to the emergency operations such as disaster relief and evacuation ops that are more likely to build friendships around the world than create enemies. The loss of CVS was inevitable given the financial situation.

    I expected the escorts to be stripped down to 14 by 2015; 19 is thus a 'bonus'. I'm pleased to see a committment to the 7th Astute which I wasn't expecting.

    It was inevitable that the Harrier was to go. The assumed timeframe for JSF entry sits perfectly with the Tornado out of service date. I find it difficult to understand the loss of MRA.4, but the savings have to come from somewhere. The early retirement of C-130J seems harsh, but hardly unexpected given how they are being flogged to death. Although it does worry me that the 'smallest' airlifter will be a £100+ million A440M. Are we likely to ever put that into real harms way on a regular basis?

    Heavey metal being decreased was a no-brainer. The reduction in deployable HQs makes sense considering the pull back from intervention operations. I suspect more to come for the Army nearing 2014-15 as Helmand draw-down kicks in.

    Overall, I'm surprised the manpower losses were not significantly higher. If the UK is getting out of the foreign slapping and/or nation building business (as I believe it should), then the cut backs have not gone 'that' deep overall. Some capability areas are now severely exposed, and that could become a major source of discontent as well as present a major military problem, but they will have to be obstacles crossed when met.

    The state of the nation's finances are dire. Some exposure was inevitable. It could have been so much worse. If the economy - and thus the nation's finances - don't bounce back significantly in the next 3-5 years, I can see SDSR2015 making even greater cuts.
  12. Three things - although i'd agree with Jim30's statements, much as just thinking about the whole thing angers me - Nimrod, FAA and the Type 26 - we can get by on 19 escorts, but come 2015 we won't HAVE 19 will we? We'll probably lose about half the T23's and have to make do until the 6 or maybe 8 T26's come online, fitted for but not with anything except a 4.5" and a 2087 sonar.

    Nimrods - regardless of how you view the UK's role in the world, a already paid for MPA is still far up the table of very-important-things-to-have so their loss is biblically stupid.

    FAA - it's been proved that maritime aviation is better held by the Naval Forces - i'm currently IN the pilots pipeline and I really really don't want a bar code for a rank... I like having a bow-wave ;)

    On the plus side - I don't think we've seen any loss to the MCMV and hydrographic fleet, so thank god for small mercies
  13. Flight

    Flight LE Book Reviewer

    I wonder how the FIG is taking the SDR?

    It looks as though oil production is likely to commence within the next two years from the Sea Lion oil field. It is highly unlikely that this will be the only commercial discovery in the SA, the BGS estimates that 60 billion barrels of oil are likely to be present down there.

    The FIG is due to take 33% in tax and royalties from the hydrocarbon industry and there is a verbal, at least, agreement with the UK treasury that half of that will be flowing into our coffers. Hence total tax take for the UK treasury from the single field so far discovered would run to over £2 billion.

    The governor has indicated a willingness to re-pay the UK for the defence of the Islands, however the SDR makes clear reading that maritime capability across all realms is unimportant in the next decade. Less so indeed than spotty hackers and towel clad extremists plotting mischief.

    From a geological point of view it is difficult to see the waters surrounding the FIs as anything other than a new North Sea. The likely revenues generated for British companies and the treasury make the national debt and the bail-outs look insignificant.

    I doubt the FIG are unaware of our financial troubles. I also doubt that our government are unaware of the potential revenues. The very least that I can assume is that those revenues are being taken for granted.

    Maybe the four fighters stationed at MPA should be named Faith, Hope, Charity and Wishful Thinking.
  14. "From a geological point of view it is difficult to see the waters surrounding the FIs as anything other than a new North Sea. The likely revenues generated for British companies and the treasury make the national debt and the bail-outs look insignificant."

    While I agree that there is potential (emphasis on potential) for finds in the FI, I think we're a long way from seeing these waters as being a new north sea. DESIRE petroleum have come up with another duster, and Rockhopper have yet to get close to even beginning the extracting of oil. My view is that its the work of many, many years (if not decades) till the FI become economically viable enough to enter full production.
  15. I've heard from a very good source that the original Treasury plan was to lose the RN's entire amphibious capability, most of our minesweepers and the surface fleet was to be cut to 12!! The unit cost of T45 (4 X what was projected) has apparently caused major issues with all else naval. In that light 19 escorts by 2020 isn't so bad - although clearly not ideal.

    After a hard look at the layered protection for the deterrent it was decided other assets could manage the risk of losing MRA4 in favour of securing the Astute class, for example.

    There is a suggestion that some of the skills we will be thinning out (heavy armour, artillery etc) may find its way into the TA as a reservoir of expertise, but Infantry numbers will not be hit and MCP will not be used to thin people out. Any cuts beyond natural wastage will get proper redundancy.

    In terms of fast air, by 2020 we'll be planning to have around 110 Typhoon and 40 JSF.

    Essentially it's been a gamble on taking short term risks to secure long term capabilities and a ensuring a viable platform that can built on when the economic realities are a bit less grim, nevertheless malign Treasury influence over what was sold as a "strategic" review is clear.