Telegraph article - "Cuts have left Army '20 years out of date' and Forces 'not fit for purpose' "

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by jrwlynch, Nov 15, 2017.

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  1. jrwlynch

    jrwlynch LE Book Reviewer

    Retired senior officers (Barrons, Zambellas and a third unnamed in the article - Air Marshal North) point out that:-

    A lack of money and policy of denial have left the Armed Forces not fit for purpose and at risk of “institutional failure”, Gen Sir Richard Barrons said.

    The former head of Joint Forces Command until 2016 said that the defence establishment is “close to breaking” and without more money “will fall over”.

    Sir Richard made a stark assessment alongside two other former senior officers who have recently retired.

    I doubt this is much of a surprise to anyone paying attention, but it's rather more vehement than I've usually seen from the "recently retired" crowd - though there are tales of how Zambellas put Service above career while 1SL... what will be interesting to see if there's any reaction.

    Cynically, the best Defence might expect is that with a new SoS and the Brexit mayhem tying up Parliament, the intended review of "take a few more slices off the salami" gets delayed; given the pre-emptive attacks demanding more money be sacrificed to the Great God Skoolzanospitals, I can't see any political appetite for any significant uplift in budget for Defence, nor any willingness to make hard decisions about cutting missions, roles or tasks.

    The last time that was done with any rigour, was the infamous 1981 Defence White Paper, which was actually a rational, well-argued reaction to a major collision between capability gaps and funding crisis that prioritised the most important military tasking; but it's grimly funny how "this is no longer a priority" can so suddenly and urgently become "what idiot decided we no longer needed to..."

    Source article at Cuts have left Army '20 years out of date' and Forces 'not fit for purpose' (not paywalled)

    Evidence session links to National security capability review examined - News from Parliament - transcript's not up yet.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2017
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  2. Its Air Marshal, not Air Marshall. I say that merely because when the BBC defence correspondent did the same spelling on twitter last night, the head of the Defence Academy (some Army 3*) decided to break twitter silence to correct him....
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  3. jrwlynch

    jrwlynch LE Book Reviewer

    Fixed - damn that cut'n'paste...
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  4. At least Stonewall thinks we're fully capable.
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  5. "Z". Telling it like it is. Ably assisted by ex CJO.
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  6. Sarastro

    Sarastro LE Reviewer Book Reviewer

    Surely this has been obvious to anyone who takes the time to pause, lift their head for more than an annual leave segment, take a breath, and look around? The problem is that nobody is interested. There aren't enough people, like you say, who are paying attention.

    There about 6 categories in this:
    • A. Politicians. Have never been interested, have particularly not been interested since the end of HERRICK because they feel we have "done" some wars and no want no more of it, and are now entirely focused on their own internecine struggles and Brexit. Iraq and its ilk are, to them, an imposed requirement for which they will do the minimum possible at the minimum risk.
    • B. The Public. Have straight up never been interested beyond maudlin displays of sympathy, and will never be interested unless bombs or paratroopers start landing in their garden.
    • C. Defence Personnel, low-level. Fixed on the small picture or, in a few cases, the current battle. They are either satisfied or broadly dissatisfied with X and Y and Z (fill in as appropriate for rank / position / location), and if those things get too bad, they will up and leave: therefore retention is a good indicator of low-level dissatisfaction. They have a general idea of where things are going wrong at their level, but tend not to understand or care too much about the strategic outlook, or how all the small things going wrong knit together overall.
    • D. Defence Personnel, high-level. Headquarters or Defence level staff. Are interested. But there are two types: Standards and Values. Obviously this is a scale on which individuals rank, not a binary choice. A Standard isn't interested in what happens in XX years time, or what we should be doing. They are interested in maintaining the machine as it currently works, within the rules they currently know, and they are happy with (or looking for) a comfortable life of predictability. A Value is interested in the future, and is therefore more aware or concerned about future threats than about maintaining the status quo. They also are more motivated by belief in the Service(s), and believes in a Mission of what they should do, not just what they do do. I'd bet the Standard : Value ratio is about 10 : 1 in the higher levels (closer at lower levels). Both types have recently agreed that things are wrong, just for different reasons: cuts to the status quo, and unpreparedness for the future. Only Values, however, tend to be willing to be outspoken about how bad things might be (see: Barrons; Shirreff; etc), because they are focused on the future. That is the difference @jrwlynch notes between the "recently retired" crowd. There has been a shift of both Value and Standard thinking, driven by the current position worsening, but the Values are way out in front of the pack because they are focusing on what the current changes will mean in 5-10 years time, so on a downwards trend think 5-10 years worse. Conversely, Standards don't measure future trends but past ones, so focus on the things that were better 5-10 years ago than they are today. Look at the arguments that Houghton as CDS - a Standard Ultra - used to make: they were all about what is happening now compared to what happened previously, and then unusually optimistic projections of what would happen in future. Again, it's a scale not binary, but broadly you can map attitudes of individuals onto this scale: are they more concerned about the future or the present? The former are your strategic thinkers. The latter are not.
    • E. The Media. Largely ignorant, as @jim30 points out. There are those who are not ignorant, but their input tends to be comprised from the opinions of either Values (e.g. Mark Urban) or, to a lesser extent (e.g. Con Coughlin), Standards. They also tend to follow the interests of either the Public or Politicians, so there isn't much coverage.
    • F. Academia. To me, these tend to be the biggest disappointment. They are very interested, but to no effect. The vast majority are conceptually engaged in the issues, but work hard to make sure they aren't practically engaged in any way. There are a few notable exceptions who nobody will have heard of, but they are rare. Academia as a whole has a fear of being tarred as "colluding" or lacking independence, and so surrenders their core role, which is to provide the wisdom of the past to current or future decisions.
    Obviously this also applies in other countries as well, so you can map the influence of A-F in, say, the US onto us. Currently, the US D (because their A is basically the same as their D at the moment) are one of the biggest influences on UK policy, and one of the few things that are preventing it sinking even lower.

    The present problem is that because there is a joint inertia of A, B and E all not giving a toss, nothing that the other elements can do will have the slightest influence beyond tinkering. D, whether in the UK or abroad, have relatively the loudest voice, but still have little impact: particularly when most of D (Standards) are more interested in what is happening right now rather than explaining a future narrative of why it matters. In other words, only a small proportion of D (Values) are actually strategic thinkers themselves. This will only change when this general disinterest and inability to think strategically is interrupted by something going Very, Very Wrong. At that point B and therefore E will suddenly decide that they were interested all along, A will scramble to assign blame and get D and C to Do Something.

    The existential question is what something Very, Very Wrong will be. North Korea? Russia messing in Europe? Middle East spilling over? Mystery Option Number 4? We probably can't predict exactly what it will be, but we can predict the potential natures of whatever it is. If we get lucky, it will be:
    • Sooner not later: as we continue to decline, we become relatively weaker, and others relatively stronger.
    • Indirect not direct: a direct attack is the nightmare scenario - an indirect attack gives us time as a resource.
    • Gradual not rapid: as above, time as a resource will be vital to prepare, since the problem is unpreparedness.
    • Larger not smaller: counter-intuitive, but the smaller the event, the less likely a reaction...death from a thousand cuts will result.
    • More violent not less violent: again, a sharp shock will be most likely to break the present complacency.
    If we get unlucky, and have the wrong combination of the above, we're going to be pretty screwed. I'd note that almost all of our potential adversaries seem to understand these principles much better than we have, and are making every effort to assert power through long-term, indirect, small-scale, low violence actions, each individually conducted at a rapid tempo, and which are then "over" before any reaction is forthcoming. Russia have been superb at this.

    To me, this is the most pertinent part of those quotes from Barrons:

    We're charging down a path (that we've trodden before, many times) of mass institutional denial, where a) the scale of the challenge, and b) the will to deal with it, are so far out of proportion that everyone just ignores the problem. Instead they try to focus on their own patch, and hew to the idea that "someone", or "higher up", are dealing with the bigger picture. But clearly, as these reports suggest, they are not. Still, raising this as something that might need to be addressed prompts replies of hyperbole or scare-mongering, because for most of the people who are even thinking about this (as above, Defence personnel or academics), to admit there is a problem of that scale would also be to admit that they, personally, aren't taking it seriously enough. Anyone who takes it seriously is, by the nature of the problem, destined to be something of a Cassandra, because the problem is that everyone else doesn't take it seriously enough. That is the nature of denial.

    It's the fruit of our military institutions hollowing out strategic thinking and strategic thinkers, and a political system that is incapable of dealing with long-term planning. We're going down the whirlpool now, and it's not going to change (within the next 5-10 years, at least) unless something very bad happens. If we get lucky, we might turn it around and less people will die immediately as a result. If we don't get lucky, all bets are off.

    Final point would be: we still (I've actually done it above) tend to think of this as "what happens if a war happens?". There is an increasingly strong argument that we are, functionally, in a 21st Century Clausewitzian definition of war with Russia: they are actively conducting political actions through non-political means, including but not limited to military power, while our political dialogue has reduced. It might not mean cavalry and artillery, but its' defined as war according to the definition we've used for two centuries.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2017
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  7. Hmm He must be OIC 1st Batt Arrse Spelling Pedants..
  8. jrwlynch

    jrwlynch LE Book Reviewer

    I regret that I have but one "Like" to give to this post.
  9. Unfortunately, yes. Just because they don't want to occupy Rotherham (who would?) doesn't mean they are benign.

    These days I don't have much direct contact with UK forces (I emigrated) but as the sensible definition of reserves would be something like 'previously prepared for general roles and now able to be effective after thorough Pre-Deployment Training' -- how does this make the Army any bigger than half a dozen battalions? Will the very necessary strategic defence-review accept the status-quo and go for home-defence plus one 'throw' of deployable-but-unsustainable forces, to be used only alongside the US?

    I'm glad that I joined in the 80's, when the Soviet Union and the leftovers (political and military) from WW2 made things clearer.
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  10. Sarastro

    Sarastro LE Reviewer Book Reviewer's Vice Admiral, not Lieutenant General.

    Vice Admiral Duncan Potts biography

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  11. And the head of the DA is actually a RAF 2* ;)
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  12. Give today's winner of the internet a coconut.
  13. Er... not quite yet. When Admiral P moves on, it'll be an RAF 3*, but he will be operating out of JFC rather than Shriv, so the RAF 2* will be have day-to-day control over DA ops.

    That was the plan last week, anyway. It is entirely possible that it has changed since...
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