Thinking about defence policy, there’s going to be another review. This started as a collection of articles leaked or inspired probably by senior army officers but in Nov. Johnson made a financial announcement seemingly in advance of the review announcement which led to me doing some reading and looking at previous strategic reviews, the armed services pay review board report, and further technology reviews. I suppose the question is do we know what we’re doing, and I think the answer is “No”. But at least they’re not dressing up in camouflage greens. For me, the first thing that is required is a threat analysis, it all stems from there and I don’t think the Tories who have been in charge for the last 10 years have it right because amongst other things, they’re fucked over the EU & NATO. Anyway, here are my notes and links.

Opening Skirmishes | Tanks | Cummings | The pre-announcement of the 2021 Review | The Integrated Defence Review | Previous White Papers | New Money | Manpower | Assets & Capability | Leadership & Doctrine | Waiting for Starmer

Marines, Tanks and Infantry

Before a review, the various branches will leak stories, emphasising their importance  and exaggerating the threat to their capability; I collected a few on the Tanks and Marines.

Will we keep the Marines and Tanks?

  2. The Empire Strikes Back: Post-Brexit Britain’s Return to East of Suez, this is very good, he or she got there first. ‘Frederick the Great once said, “He who defends everywhere defends nothing.” A feeble and overstretched global military presence is equal to no presence at all.’
  4. REVEALED: The UK military’s overseas base network involves 145 sites in 42 countries showing the UK Military footprint,  from the Daily Maverick
  5. , The recent war in Nagorno-Karabakh, fought between Armenia and Azerbaijan, may well be an unusually fruitful seminar for the armies of the West. Without getting too deep into the tactical weeds, this … illustrates that the holes in the British Army’s current arsenal are very severe indeed: minimal short-range air defence and electronic warfare capabilities – both critical to fight enemy UAS – and no loitering munitions of its own. Much of its artillery is out ranged and obsolete, while its malfunctioning reconnaissance drone – Watchkeeper – stars in a charmingly forthright NASA case study of failed public sector technology development.
  6. RAND on the aircraft carriers … 75% of cost is post launch
  7. On the Marines … a puff leak, they’ll probably stay, somewhere it says they’ll refocus on seaborne, commando work and defocus on light infantry.


Here’s some stuff on Cummings’ involvement,

  1. MPs ask No 10 to clarify Dominic Cummings role in defence review
  2. Dominic Cummings to tour sensitive MoD sites amid defence review
  3. Cummings seen with letter on 1980s US military reorganisation NB this is 40 years old doctrine
  4. Is Cummings a Russian asset?

2020/1 Review

Cummings has been fired so where does this leave the Defence Review? It seems in a very healthy, if not accelerated state. Boris had to make an announcement, and did so, stating that the Defence budget was to increase by £16½bn but added a bullshit justification about the pride of the nation, and a reversing of decades of cuts. We need to note that it’s Johnson, that has reversed the decision to withdraw from “East of Suez” although it was Brown who ordered the Aircraft carriers that have no other use. [Independent || Guardian] Kier Starmer’s comments are accurate here, strategy follows a threat analysis and programmes follow strategy. Johnson offers neither.

The press stories still suggest a reduction in tanks and army personnel, a good head line summary is here in “Defence News”

At the time of the paper’s publication, the HoC Library published a document called, “A brief guide to previous British defence reviews“. (To be read)

Global Britain in a Competitive Age: the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy

Here’s the Govt SDR hosting page and here is a thread by Dr Phil Weir about the Indian Ocean. (An OPV stands for Offshore Patrol Vessel, is between 1,00 & 2,200 tons, so small, but in use by the Thai Navy.)

The Govt’s hosting page says, and this is heavily edited for the sake of brevity,

In this context, the Integrated Review sets out four overarching objectives:

  1. Sustaining strategic advantage through science and technology (S&T), … to firmly establish the UK as a global S&T and responsible cyber power
  2. Shaping the open international order of the future, working with partners to reinvigorate the international institutions, …
  3. Strengthening security and defence at home and overseas, working with allies and partners …
  4. Building resilience at home and overseas, improving our ability to anticipate, prevent, prepare for and respond … will also involve tackling risks at source – in particular climate change and biodiversity loss.

In Foundation and Empire, there is a diplomat who visits the Foundation and spend a number of days there, what he says and promises is analysed using the mathematical tools of “psychohistory” and they discover, he’s said nothing! You don’t need the tools to analyse a similar content to the paragraph above.

More ships, less soldiers, reduced war (ground) fighting capability.

Ben Wallace’s forward identifies the Integrated Operating Concept as a key step towards the review outcome.

Here’s some links to help understand the army cuts,

  4. identifies 1 Division as UK based, and heads up the British Army’s Light Role Adaptable Force, optimised for the challenges of today, both at home and abroad. With approximately 14,000 Regular and 11,000 Army Reserve soldiers, the Division is configured to deliver ‘light role excellence’. This page also identifies 3 Division as a war fighting division with armour at its centre, and 6 division consisting of Cyber, and Special Operations forces.

Here’s a supplementary white paper on defence, MOD Science and Technology Strategy 2020

The MOD S&T strategy sets out the aim to prioritise higher-risk, high reward research that will support the generation-after-next of military capabilities while continuing to maintain the range of critical S&T capabilities that supports our national security.

Here’s a review in the FT, one year later and one month after Russia invaded Ukraine.

“What does need to change is the review’s “frankly insulting indifference to European partners and . . . the necessity, and opportunity, of playing a much better game on European security,” said Professor Michael Clarke, former director of the Royal United Services Institute, a London think-tank.

Rishi Sunak, the UK chancellor, last week resisted growing pressure to increase the defence budget in the Spring Statement, despite rising inflation. As a result Malcolm Chalmers, RUSI’s deputy-director general, said defence spending would decline in real terms over the next three years.

What came before?

The House of Commons helpfully published a paper called, A brief guide to previous British defence reviews.

Blair’s Govt had two reviews, one  in 1998,  see also the HoC Library research paper on 1998, and its HoC Library landing page. See also the now archived White Paper. See also 2003 which was supplemented by “A new chapter”, itself commented on by the MoD Select committee.

These were  followed by Cameron in 2010, and then again in 2015. In preparation for the 2021 review, the HOC Library published, A brief guide to previous British defence reviews dated 2020.


From 1998 paper

Central to these new strategic realities was the assessment that “there is today no direct military threat to the United Kingdom or Western Europe”.

Its overall strategic conclusions were that the British Armed Forces should be able to respond to a major international crisis which might require a military effort and combat operations of a similar scale and duration to Operation Granby during the Gulf War. It also should be able to undertake a more extended overseas deployment on a lesser scale (as in Bosnia) while retaining the ability to mount a second substantial deployment – which might involve a combat brigade and appropriate naval and air forces – if this were made necessary by a second crisis (as in Operation Veritas in Afghanistan). It would not, however, expect both deployments to involve warfighting or to maintain them simultaneously for longer than six months. The Armed Forces must also retain the ability, at much longer notice, to rebuild a bigger (pre-Options for Change) force as part of NATO‘s collective defence should a major strategic threat re-emerge.

From the Research Paper, a warning about expeditionary engagements,

The confirmation of an expeditionary strategy is also open to debate. Britain has fought a series of expeditionary and “withdrawal from empire” campaigns overseas since the end of the Second World War. These engagements have generally been successful and have resulted in very few casualties. In contrast, other states which have followed an interventionist foreign policy have suffered heavy casualties and, on occasion, major defeat. The USA lost over 100,000 men in Korea and Vietnam combined. France lost similar numbers in Vietnam and Algeria. Whether it is under UN auspices or in concert with the USA, the UK could be committing itself to future conflicts which could turn out to be domestically divisive and costly, both in terms of expenditure and in lives.

On Blair’s policy, a critique is here. A turn toward Europe but a recognition that the British Military could not operate outside Europe without US support.


On the 2003 paper, Bronwen Maddox, then Foreign Editor
at The Times commented,

The biggest gamble taken in the White Paper is that this view of future wars is correct. On this view, the wars that will demand British engagement in the next couple of decades are likely to resemble those of the 1990s – Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Kosovo. Or they will resemble those of this century – Afghanistan and Iraq – and will be fought alongside the US. But they will not be like the Falklands, the Cold War or the Second World War

Apart from its focus on networked warfare and anti-terrorism, this quote sums the paper up as far as I can see.


Also see below, wikipedia identifies not threat or capability statement and states,

On 3 August 2011, the House of Commons Defence Select Committee published a critical review of the SDSR. The review led to wide-ranging cuts to the Armed Forces, which were widely criticised for damaging the capabilities of the British military.[27]


The National Security Risk Assessment 2015 found the threats faced by the UK, including its Overseas Territories and overseas interests, have “increased in scale, diversity and complexity” since 2010. It highlighted four particular threats that are likely to be priorities for UK security in the coming decade:

  1. The increasing threat posed by terrorism, extremism and instability.
  2. The resurgence of state-based threats; and intensifying wider state competition.
  3. The impact of technology, especially cyber threats; and wider technological developments.
  4. The erosion of the rules-based international order, making it harder to build consensus and tackle global threats.

An NAO report on Budget management 2016 was published. It documents the capital spend as 40% and staff/people costs as 31% of budget. It summarises the 2025 goals as,

It sets out three national security objectives:
to protect the people of the UK, both at home and abroad;
to project the UK’s global influence; and
to promote the UK’s national prosperity – this is a new strategic objective for the Ministry of Defence.

It also talks about the replacement subs for the Vanguard class ICBM launch platforms. Are we already spending money on these?

The dire problems of the 2010 SDR

Johnson side stepped the allegation that it was Cameron’s 2010 SDR that fucked things up, although I would add the decision by Labour to build two “fleet” aircraft carriers, as part of the problem. Here is a House of Commons Research Paper on the 2010 SDR, hosted on the wayback machine, full of statements on the political direction 😳. This quote is quite amusing,

Equipment programmes cannot be based on wish-lists or the fantasy world of what we would like to do if resources were unlimited.

Cameron’s review, confirmed a further shrinking of the Army, and cuts to the number of tanks, self-propelled guns and the withdrawal from Germany. It confirmed cuts to the surface fleet, and shit-canned the Harriers. The aftermath of this review led me to say that the armed forces now had aircraft carriers without warplanes, a tank regiment without tanks, a guided missile destroyer without missiles, a fighter bomber too old to use and the smallest army in living memory incapable of successfully fighting an expeditionary force, certainly alone, I should have added transport command without transports, but we had four ICBM submarines.

I have written on the state of the 2010 review

and also on my blog

What is Johnson’s new money buying?

I was curious to see what had happened to Soldier’s Pay. It is not easily available on google. I did find the 48th report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Board which recommended a further 2.9% pay increase despite being leaned on to take on board affordability; I hope the people get their share of the £16½bn.

However, with help from my MP, Vicky Foxcroft, I obtained some numbers on Sergeant’s pay, and obtained further data on UK Defence spending and military manpower, which I present in this chart.

Change in total budget vs change in army pay


See, a note on how they measure today

Historical numbers,

The Guardian on personnel numbers , dated 2011.

The recent white papers define their Army needs in terms of interventions, it would seem that army has two expectations, a war fighting combat brigade and joint task force, designed for rapid deployment and/or medium term peace keeping.  The BAOR was two combat brigades in Germany, and declined from 53,000 in 1967, the year before the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and had declined to 25,000 in 1993, it;s final year, three years after the reunification of Germany.

Assets & Capability

The Daring class destroyer, of too my mind, a cruiser replacement, has a speed of 29 knots, the Persian Gulf is about 93,000 sq. nautical miles and 98.5 nautical miles long … the F35 speed is 1,200 mph (1,042 knots).

I wrote a piece on Trident Renewal in the blog published on May 2916, but written earlier as Labour took down the original posting. It identified failings in the then current defence estate, I am not sure the extent to which these have been filled, it seems that the Type 45 Destroyer now has an effective air defence system, the Sea Viper took some time to come good. We plan to increase the size of surface fleet, the tank regiment is now using tanks again. I am not sure if we have invested in sufficient airlift capacity. It seems we now plan to buy two littoral strike ships, which have the advantage of being cheap, but if so, we’ll need to keep the marines and probably dedicate some AA & ASW ships to protect them. The discussions about the LSS’s make clear that the Navy envisages two fleets, Atlantic & Far East; I think this is a mistake and cannot be justified by a threat analysis, WTF are we doing back East of Suez but the Dutch Navy is also exercising with the Yanks.

I am not sure if the surface-to-surface missile problem has been solved? The fleet escort solution seems a mess, with type 26, 31 and 32 all currently planned for use today or in the short term. The primary anti-surface ship weapons today and for the foreseeable future are the so-called Hunter-Killer submarines, of which the Royal Navy has seven with three planned.

On ground attack warplanes, do we need a new one? The Jaguar lasted 32 years and its replacement,  the first eurofighter Tornado was retired in 2018 and we are now using Typhoons, first launched in 1994, so over 25 years old although the last one was delivered to the RAF in 2019. Here is an Australian’s analysis, called “Demon or Lemon”; he comes down in the middle but definitely not a Lemon in 2000, whether it’s so in 2020 is another question and it wasn’t designed as a ground attack plane.

Leadership & Doctrine

As I sit down to write this, I suddenly realise it could be quite long; but this first draft won’t be. I went to the tank museum and one of the information placards spoke of how the Cavalry had tried to inhibit the introduction of the tank. Another suggested that the Army is always preparing for the last war. The placards on the birth of the Tank showed the British inspiration of iconoclastic thought and the often conservative inhibitions of incumbent power. I was once told that “military intelligence” was an oxymoron. In James Meek’s review of the Afghanistan war via book review, he identifies two factors related to leadership and doctrine as failures,

the result was that the British military establishment put the preservation of its long-term budget ahead of the preservation of its soldiers in the field.
as the commanders who served in Afghanistan get their say, the dominant tone is of anger towards the Ministry of Defence and the army itself, which emerges as an organisation incapable of learning except by years of trial and error when real wars come along.

The army that went into Iraq and Afghanistan was hobbled by its lack of back office support. Defence Intelligence, the MoD’s in-house intelligence agency, had got rid of its linguists. The MoD’s main research centre was privatised in 2001

This led me to look for more evidence, I found, Games: Conflict, Competition, and Cooperation by David Blagden (Editor), Mark de Rond (Editor) , which is an anthology, [abstract citation | googlereads | google books]. I bought it and read the Ledwidge article, and have posted a stub about it.

Waiting for Starmer & Healey

I posted a blog reviewing Starmer’s speech to Barrow dockyard workers, these are my links,

  1. It was reported on by the FT & the NWE Mail; I am of the view that they miss the point.
  2. Paul Mason on his sub stack, about a deficient Army, and on overall deficiencies and how to pay for it.
  3. Sir Patrick Sanders, (CoGS) made a controversial speech in January 2024, in which he called for a higher expenditure and a stronger and scalable Army.
  4. Mason caused me to look for his “funding gap”. There is a £16bn funding gap between the requirements of the 2021 white paper and the budget. The requirements are probably deficient in that they plan to under-fund the Army. The public accounts committee undertook an Inquiry into the MOD equipment plan; the plan itself is available The defence equipment plan 2022 to_2032 as is the NAO report, NAO The Equipment Plan 2023 2033 and its its landing page.

9 Replies

  1. I added the Times article leaking the reduction in Infantry Battalions, I also added subtitles to make reading it easier.

  2. I removed this comment from the main text, The Times reports that four infantry battalions are to go, aimed at multi-battalion regiments so no more regiments are shit canned. 16 Feb 2021

  3. I added some MoD and Paul Mason links on the “Capability Gap” and some better informed comments about the capability of the Army.

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