What started it

I found myself doing some reading about recent British Defence strategy and policy. It started with a blog by John Snow, questioning the British military’s obsession with supporting the US, it’s a sort of trickle down, but we can’t afford the technology any more. Military technology works because its new and different and expensive to copy and counter. Snow points at James Meek’s review of five books about Britain’s War in Afghanistan, called “worse than defeat” in the London Review of Books.

Meek is exceptionally critical of the leadership of the British Army, and Tony Blair of course, but he is more generous about Brown. Keypoints to me are

  1. the suggestion that it is the CDS refusing to actually take the budgetary choices required of them by the politicians.
  2. He is interesting in reporting the decisions about the maintenance of the the aircraft carrier fleet, the decision to use SVTOL and the decisions to try and reverse it, and the lack of surface defensive fleet, a weakness possibly dating back to the 1980’s.
  3. He also talks about the Army leaderships conservatism in for seeing the next conflict in terms of strategy and preparation and its refusal despite the Army being defined by asymmetric conflicts.

The books are,

  • The Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan by Jack Fairweather
    Cape, 488 pp, £20.00, December 2014, ISBN 978 0 224 09736 9
  • Investment in Blood: The True Cost of Britain’s Afghan War by Frank Ledwidge
    Yale, 287 pp, £10.99, July 2014, ISBN 978 0 300 20526 8
  • British Generals in Blair’s Wars edited by Jonathan Bailey, Richard Iron and Hew Strachan
    Ashgate, 404 pp, £19.95, August 2013, ISBN 978 1 4094 3736 9
  • An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978-2012 by Mike Martin
    Hurst, 389 pp, £25.00, April 2014, ISBN 978 1 84904 336 6


I was pointed at the Defence Select Committee, report on the Management of the Defence Strategy and Management.

The Defence Select Committee

Decision-making in Defence Policy by the House of Commons Defence Committee, March 2015

Lord Levene’s reforms sought to address—among other things—irrational optimism, the lack of long-term strategy, and the absence of clear accountability, in MoD decision-making.

We have been lucky enough to inherit the finest military in the world. We owe them the right decisions

We believe that there is still a crucial lack of authoritative, expert information which can serve as the basis for strong defence decision-making, in particular on the detailed political situation in conflict areas. We do not believe that the existing information-gathering institutions including within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and intelligence agencies — are currently capable of providing information of sufficient quality and quantity.

We therefore conclude that unless the Government makes better use of its decision-making institutions, and draws on higher quality information and advice, there is a significant risk that future decisions on defence and security issues will be as poor as in the past, with consequences which are just as damaging

This used the decisions around the procurement of the carriers and the decision to deploy in Helmand as case studies to critique decision making in the MoD, although not in the service arms.

It pointed me at  The Levene Review 2011

The Levene Review

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/defence-reform-an-independent-report-into-the-structure-and-management-of-the-ministry-of-defence–2
  2. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/27408/defence_reform_report_struct_mgt_mod_27june2011.pdf

and comments

  1. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/may/27/armed-forces-face-radical-change
  2. Lord Levene’s recommendations for reforming the UK MoD from Defence IQ

It really is very managerial, is it really about effectiveness or just an investment in cost control.

The Strategy


Like all changes of administration, particularly when the colour changes the last Government i.e the 1st Cameron administration conducted a Defence Strategy review

  1. Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review Oct 2010 HMG

It reduced the Army manpower which means the reliance on the Territorial Army becomes mandatory, the RAF gets one fighter plane and the Navy gets two carriers without planes.

I wrote about its impacts on my blog,

The 2010 Defence review identified the lack of sufficient heavy cargo planes as another serious deficiency.  We have no maritime fixed wing planes (but we do have two aircraft carriers, which we may not be able to defend in a battle zone, due to the weakness of the rest of the surface fleet, the failure of the air defence destroyer’s primary weapon system, together with the absence of planes). The army is the smallest it’s been in peace time. (The record in Afghanistan shows it cannot mount a successful expeditionary force, although that might have been missing political will, but the inclusion of soldiers in an organisation called the Territorials in an overseas theatre of operations is another illustration of the weakness in complement of today’s army. )


The Guardian on the long and costly gestation of the Typhoon/Eurofighter, its ageing justification, rescued by Russia’s new found shadow and real aggression, its questionable design goals, its inflexibility and its conflict of requirements with the F35 Joint Strike Fighter; a choice between Europe and the US.

The Register, of all people, on the Type 26 frigate or Frigates aren’t very good, Type 26 isn’t the kind of ship the Navy needs to use: It’s the kind of ship that BAE Systems needs to make

They’re not impressed with the T45 (Daring class Anti-Aircraft Destroyer) either, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/05/20/daring_armed/ ; it’s seen as under armed (particularly against aircraft and/or incoming missiles) and too expensive to act as an anti-submarine helicopter platform.

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