EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Sunset to Sunrise: From the Age of Armour to the Digital Age
DATE: 30 March, 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
SPEAKERS: Dr Simon Anglim, Tobias Ellwood MP, Dr Jack Watling
EVENT MODERATOR: Rob Clark
Robert Clark 00:00
Okay, a very warm welcome to everyone who is tuned into this virtual event, especially those of you in the UK who are enjoying the weather here today and those of you watching this later, my name is Robert Clark. I’m a Defence Fellow here at the Henry Jackson Society in London, and it’s my pleasure to moderate this timely informative discussion regarding last week’s Defence Command Paper. This document entitled ‘Defence in a Competitive age’ feeds directly into two preceding documents; last year’s integrated operating concept, and the first of the government’s integrated review text, ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age’, which was released two weeks ago. Curiously, both of these documents called for a more forward deployed presence of UK Armed Forces across the globe. This is a direct result of what the UK Government have correctly identified as an increasingly competitive and unpredictable geopolitical climate. One characterized as a return to a great power rivalry, where the imminent threat to us national security originate from states like Russia and China, particularly in the below threshold space. To that end, in a competitive environment in which the UK will be increasingly operating over the coming decade, it is important to note that this defence paper has announced a reduction in the size of British army to a target figure of 72,500 personnel, the smallest number in 300 years. In addition, a reduction of Army capability will further erode the mass which is required to provide a credible warfighting Armoured Division. These cuts have already caused great concern among some senior military stuff in addition to our allies in Washington. It is important to note, however, that this review has announced an uplift for offensive cyber capabilities in the emerging space domain, which should be headed by the RAF’s new Space Command, in addition to increased funding for artificial intelligence and robotics integrated into the military, whilst also modernising direct fire capabilities and long range integrated artillery. These were welcomed developments, but hasn’t Ministry of Defence struck the right balance? Many seem doubtful. Before I hand over to our first speaker, a quick reminder to all those watching live online. We’ll be opening up for the audience Q&A after our speakers remarks. So if you have questions, which you’d like our panel to answer, please just type them into the box on the right hand side of your screen. Okay, I’ll now hand over to our first speaker, The Right Honourable Tobias Ellwood, Member of Parliament for Bournemouth East and chair of the Defence Select Committee. Mr. Elwood, thank you very much for your time and the floor is yours.
Tobias Ellwood MP 02:15
Thank you very much indeed, for this opportunity to share some thoughts and ideas in response to the Defence Command paper, and indeed, the integrated view as well. And just a big plug for the Henry Jackson Society, I’ve been very much involved with their activities ever since I became a parliamentarian and very, very pleased in how they take some of the issues of the day and explore them into another level. And I certainly hope that’s what we will do here today. It’s worth just perhaps pointing out and forgive me if I’m teaching people to suck eggs. But what is the purpose of any integrated review, any study on our defensive security strategy? And I think there are three fundamental questions. Firstly, is assessing the current and emerging threats and opportunities that we face. Second is to define our ambitions, what is our place in the world what we actually want to achieve? And finally, when you take those two together, how should our defence posture then advance in relation to those two, if we want to be quite insular and isolated, of course, we don’t need to spend too much on defence. But as I hope Britain would want to step forward, perhaps when others hesitate, then we need to look at how the character of conflict is changing, and adapt to new technologies coming in, and making sure that we can participate with our allies to the developing threats around the world. And I think to put things into context, I had the opportunity to quiz the Prime Minister only last week, at something called the liaison committee. As chair of the Defence Committee, I joined other chairs, and we get to ask the Prime Minister questions. And I led him down the garden path, if you’d like a little bit, just to clarify, perhaps how dangerous and complex our world is at the moment, I asked him whether he agreed that the security environment was indeed deteriorating, that, you know, democracy and pluralism will continue to decline, with our international institutions unable to cope. That China’s assertiveness was not diminished, that Russia will continue to extend its threats to European security, and terrorism organizations are starting to regroup. And to add to that, if that wasn’t enough, we’ve also got the new dimensions of space and cyber to consider, along with the challenges and the implications of climate change. Now, he didn’t disagree with any of that, and I didn’t think anybody would, it is certainly getting very, very dangerous, indeed. The question I would pose to everybody is, when you accumulate all these together, is it more dangerous or less dangerous than during the Cold War? Now, if you believe it’s more dangerous, more complex, more difficult to challenge, then you must ask yourselves why are they spending 2.2% on defence when back in the Cold War, we spent 4%. And if there’s one thing, my message today is simply to say that we are on a peace time defence budget footing, we simply cannot afford to give ourselves the full spectrum capabilities to do what we actually want to do. And that has been reflected in the Defence Command paper, where we’ve seen some real improvements in certain areas, lethality, agility, for example, the creation of the ranges, that’s going to give extra venom indeed to our special forces, the creation of stabilization and security forces as well, very helpful to perhaps building a post conflict environment. And of course, the tilt towards protecting in the cyber world that extra resilience is absolutely needed. But if you don’t have enough money, you’ve got to make some stark choices. And Robert, you touched on it, some of the changes that are taking place, have really shocked the military fraternity, you know, cutting back on 10,000, troops, removing armoured fighting vehicles, tanks, frigates, and so forth. It’s going to change our conventional capability quite considerably. And that will remove our effectiveness, our ability to perhaps then foot step forward, when other nations do hesitate. And you can give some very live examples of what others around the world have where possibly we aren’t going to hesitate, we’re not going to step forward. What’s going on in Mozambique now is very disturbing, but it’s so far away, why should that concern me? Well, actually, Al Shabaab developing not just in Somalia, but all the way down to Mozambique with Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, there’s a British interest there. We’ve got strong prosperity relations, trade relationships with these bases. If they’re affected, that affects the Treasury’s coffers. So it’s in our interest to make sure that we support what’s going on there. Likewise, with Yemen, we are the UN penholder there. And yet, we still for six years, we’ve allowed that to rumble on but could be a ceasefire on the lines, we’ve got a President of the United States who wants to reengage that. So why not be ready to put forward a stabilization force to provide the peacekeeping if the UN required, I’m not sure we’d be able to do that anymore. And that shows the limitations of what we’re going to do. And I’m sure we’re going to get into it, the bigger threats of what’s going on with China, and Russia and so forth. But for me, the face of the next Cold War isn’t going to be a military build-up of either side, on our iron curtain, it’s actually going to be seeing China purchase influence around the world, nudging us out very carefully, very slowly, but certainly very progressively, of favoured nation status in all these countries across the Commonwealth and elsewhere, where they develop bonds. And slowly we are nudged out to be able to have a trading relationship. And indeed, as democratic values are then indeed challenged. And you can counter that by strengthening our upstream engagement with security, strengthening our upstream engagement through soft power through promotion of governance, and so forth. And my final point is once this world is getting more dangerous, and more insecure, it’s partly because the West has become more risk averse. We are less focused on what we believe in what we stand for what we’re willing to defend. And if I can end on a positive note 2021, could be the year for Britain, we are hosting the G7 we are hosting COP26, big, international, events. And the Achilles heel with China is the economy. It can only continue to grow, it can only continue to do what it does, if it continues developing those international relationships. When you add G7 plus the other three attendees, which will be India, Australia, and indeed, Korea, you then get over half the world’s GDP. That’s not a bad starting point, to start to regroup, to redefine, our security and our trading relationships across the world to say this is what we believe in. This is what we’re willing to defend, this is what we stand for. Thank you.
Robert Clark 09:05
Thank you Tobias for some really interesting observations I particularly towards the end. Just a reminder to those of you who are watching online live, if you have a question which you’d like to put to our speakers, feel free to submit now on the link in zoom, and we’ll address those afterwards. I’ll now hand over to our second panellist, Dr Simon Anglim. Simon is a teaching fellow and military historian at King’s College London. His research interests include strategy in history of Special Forces, and unconventional warfare from the Second World War through to the present. Simon Thank you.
Dr Simon Anglim 09:38
Well, thank you, Rob and hello, everybody. And now then I’m here I suspect mainly because Rob is a former student of mine from Kings. And I think I’ve got a number of others past and present who are along today. And they can all tell you that I’m not given to predicting the future and I tend to get rather irritated when I’m asked to do so. So what I’m going to do today rather than do that is to offer a few opinions on what’s happened and what perhaps should happen when it comes to the near future of the British Army in particular. And as the academic present, I’ve indeed decided to hone in on what I know a bit about, which is land operations. Now given that I am the academic present, I’m also surprisingly enough the token paleo-conservative present. And my contention is that we’re still very much in the age of armour. And we’re going to be for a while, and I’m going to spend the next few minutes rambling on about as to why. So why do I say this? Why do I say that we’re still in the age of armour? Well, I begin by stressing that there’s a difference between legacy systems and legacy capabilities. And I would also say that while, as Tobias’s committee has revealed to us all recently, the British forces have got plenty of legacy systems, there are certain so called ‘legacy capabilities’, it not only needs to be retaining, but reinforcing and possibly even expanding. Let me give some background to what I believe about this and why I believe it. Well, the main context here, as both the documents under discussion have made clear, is a need for the armed forces to start thinking about operating globally, as part of the global Britain strategy, which Henry Jackson’s have, of course, played a part in shaping, and which has my qualified support. However, this goes alongside a need to contain and deter the main threat to the UK, which is concentrated in Eastern Europe, and in which we need to work as we’ve always done through NATO, as the doctrine does stress at some length. So then, the integrated review acknowledges that we are moving into a new era of geopolitical competition, in which the UK may need to confront state based peer competitors – good. I, and a lot of British military people that I’ve been talking to, have been arguing that way for a couple of years now. And that particular piece of writing has been on the wall at least since 2014. Now, it’s when you look at how this competition might play out on the ground, in worst-case scenarios, and I stress worst case scenarios, that I begin to see a few issues lurking here. To give you one example, I point out to you the Ukraine. In the first four or so years, after 2014, at least 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers were killed or wounded in combat. Over a million people were displaced. And entire towns and villages have been flattened by artillery fire from both sides. Now that to me is not hybrid war. It is not a grey zone war. It is war. And likewise, I see very little hybrid about what’s going on in Syria, or Iraq over the last 10 years. And of course, we seen the example last year of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, in which at least 5000 soldiers on both sides were killed in the space of just over six weeks, with civilian casualties not known right now. But despite this, Azerbaijan won a clear and decisive military victory, applying conventional military force and some basic strategic principles. And I do notice that many people out there, and some of whom really ought to know better, have drawn a lot of wrong lessons from this. So what it seems to me is that conventional warfare, warfare involving the clash of regular armies and navies and air forces has a present. It certainly has a present. And that suggests to me that it might have a future as well. And the Armed Forces really do need to prepare for this, first and foremost, for both global Britain and for potential NATO scenarios. And that brings me on to capabilities and what I think the armed forces, and particularly the British Army, still needs. So in terms of expeditionary capability, I am glad to see that 3 Commando and 16 Air Assault brigade remain at the heart of this. Although it has to be said 16 Air Assault does have still does have a lot of heavy kit, which means it’s going to need basing nearby to where it’s operating, and I do wonder how this is going to gel with getting rid of the C130s, and truncating the Chinook force. And as someone who is interested in Special Forces, I have to say I do disagree with Tobias somewhat here, this new special operations brigade strikes me as not so much the creation of a new special force, but a rebranding of local capacity building, and military influence and support. And this is something that the British Army has generally been extremely good at, in the past, and more recently with its specialized infantry battalions. And it’s something that, were I’d have my way, I would expand into other arms and services as well. This just strikes me as fixing something that ain’t broke. But it’s that passage on warfighting and 3 Division that really jumps off the page at me. First of all, I’d remind you of Field Marshal Slim’s old adage about fighting battles on land; the more you use, the less you lose. Conventional land warfare is all about contesting control of territory. It’s about fighting for ground, as opposed to insurgency, which is about contesting control of populations. Now, if you’re going to fight for ground cost-effectively, you need to maximize your troops capabilities, protection, movement and shooting at close range. Therefore, you are going to need tanks (inaudible) outdated, and I think that’s quite a charitable term. The announcement that they’re going to be renovated is welcome. But in the long term, they’re going to need to be replaced. And what they’re going to be replaced by and as to whether it moves on tracks or wheels, I’ve got a completely open mind, perhaps that’s one for the Q&A. However, there are also rumours to the effect that the Warrior upgrade is now going to be abandoned, and the decision on what’s going to replace Warrior is being kicked down the road. And that leads me and others to wonder if the British Army is going to withdraw for good from the whole armoured infantry game, and that’s going to have repercussions all over the place. And this brings us on to an even more pressing issue, it’s the one that I’ll close with, and if you’re going to win the land battle, then mass; of people and systems and firepower is critical. Most of you will be aware that the Army’s conventional warfighting component centres on a so called heavy division, 3 Division, which right now certainly isn’t a division, and it probably isn’t that heavy either. Now, the initial plan was for this division to have four brigades. It would have two armoured infantry brigades, each with a tank regiment attached to each, plus two of the new strike brigades. Now what we have actually had now and for the foreseeable future, looks to me like a divisional headquarters plus two brigades. And it’s not at all clear what those brigades are actually going to consist of. So what this means is, is that in order to have a viable fighting division, for the foreseeable future, we’re going to need a generous minded ally, to provide us not only with a third Brigade, but also with all the artillery and air defence assets, that the British Army currently has but its obsolete and massively overstretched. All those things in order to give those brigades the support fires, they’re going to need to manoeuvre properly without being slaughtered by Russian artillery. Now, this is something the doctrine promises to rectify, but past experience tells us this is going to take at least a decade and tens of millions of pounds to sort out. This is important, this matters, because it might have political implications impacting on Britain’s role in NATO, possibly on things like its command of ARRC, the Allied rapid reactionary call at reaction corps, and the post of Deputy Saceur. Because all of these surely hinge on things like burden sharing, and whether or not Britain is a good, effective ally or not on several levels. That’s as much as I’ve got to say for now. I look forward to the discussion. Thank you very much everybody.
Robert Clark 20:03
Thank you Simon really interesting comments regarding especially freedoms and the ability to mount a fully armoured warfighting division, especially the credibility going forward. Just to remind the audience again, we’ll go over to our last Our final speaker in a moment. And after that, we’ll be opening up to Q&A. So I received some questions so far, please, if you have a question, don’t feel like you have to sit on the fence, please, please submit it and we’ll get around to answering as many as we can. Okay, so I’ll hand over now to our final speaker, Dr. Jack Watling. Jack is a research fellow for land warfare at the Royal united services Institute here in London. Jack has recently conducted studies of deterrence against Russia, force modernization, partner force capacity building, future core operations and the future of fires, which I think is pertinent to this discussion, increasingly. So Jack, I’ll hand over to you. Thank you.
Dr Jack Watling 20:54
Thank you very much Rob. So to kind of dangerously flirt with predicting the future, I’m going to try and outline, I think, where the British Army is trying to get to at least. And I think when we understand the ARRC, then some of the decisions that have been made make retrospectively perhaps more sense. But they do represent a very, very high risk judgment in terms of where we are putting our resources. And so I think I’m going to try and articulate what those risks are. We think about the 2015 security and defence review. That essentially structured the British Army delivering a warfighting division supposedly, and gave most of the logistics and training efforts within the army, to resourcing that division. But the Army’s actual activity around the world, whether that was countering Daesh, or trying to build influence in Eastern Europe, the NATO deployments in the Baltics and so forth, were largely small, dispersed, and in support of partners and allies. And so we essentially had a situation in which the army was structured to do one task, but being used in a very different way. And so when we look at the burden of resource over the last actual two decades, it has not gone into the spiral development or modernization of the equipment that that warfighting division is supposed to have. The result being that its main battle tanks, its artillery, and its infantry fighting vehicles were all beyond obsolescence, and had kind of entered that state simultaneously. And I think that’s really important context, because the additional money that the government has made a lot of noise about, the vast majority of it in defence essentially went into filling a black hole in the budget that already existed. And so there wasn’t actually a huge amount more money to invest in new things. And the army in particular faced a position where either it could resource re equipping the division, but in doing so not really be able to resource anything else. Or it had to hold back some of that money and invest in other capabilities. And there’s a second trend here that I think we have to appreciate, which is that while Simon is absolutely correct, I think that, you know, high intensity Armoured Warfare doesn’t look massively different today from what it did, say three decades ago. And the capabilities that are relevant are fundamentally similar. And that is probably not the case in 10 to 15 years time. And the reason for that is that we are experimenting with capabilities today that are substantially more lethal, can control a much greater amount of ground, and where mass is a response to those capabilities is a very quick way to take heavy, heavy casualties. And when we are looking at those systems, we are seeing large, traditional armoured formations being attrited down to about 20% combat effectiveness, sometimes mostly before they’ve even entered the close combat zone and then when they enter it getting chewed to pieces. Even if those heavy formations are able to take the objective, and they are often able to take the objective in those simulations, they tend to then lose it to counter attack because they’ve sustained such heavy attrition, that they are not able to move on to the next objective. So most of those capabilities do exist, the new ones, but they’re not fieldable yet. And the reason that they’re not fieldable is that there are lots of components to them that don’t yet fit together. A good example would be autonomous ground vehicles with you know, weapons on them, which are very effective, but they tend to only move very slowly because their processing is not yet able to interpret the terrain around them fast enough to allow movement above a certain speed. They tend to be very effective while they have power, and then run out of power, so there’s a sustainment problem. And they tend to, there are certain tasks that they really struggle with, they tend to navigate into bogs, things like that, because they struggle to judge the density of the ground. And so when you look at the trajectory in developing some of these capabilities, you are talking about 10 to 15 years, which means that the army faced a really difficult challenge, it could either invest most of its resources into renewing its division today, in which case, it would have a pretty effective division by 2025, only to watch the capabilities that make up that division become rather obsolete very quickly in the 2030s. Or, it could hold back some of that resource and invest it to accelerate the development of those capabilities as they mature, so that by the 2030s, you do have a competitive warfighting force. They’ve chosen the latter. And in doing so, they are taking a very substantial risk, because the consequence is that today, we do not have a warfighting division, period. We have the structures, but the system of fighting that constitutes that structure doesn’t make sense anymore, because some of the key capabilities have been removed. Warrior is the linchpin of that problem. Now there are alternative ways of fighting to using infantry fighting vehicles, you can use a Recce Strike complex, which is something that the army is investing. The Recce strike brigade is there, basically you have a low density sensor screen with a very high volume of long range precision fires, and therefore you’re able to inflict disproportionate attrition on the adversary. It performs well. But most of the fires capabilities the army is looking out for that won’t be around until 2029. And so what we have at the moment, and will have until 2029 is a rather vulnerable force. And I think something I really want to flag here, because it’s not been widely appreciated, is that while the government has similarly spoken about, you know, this was a very integrated joined up, cleverly sequenced process. That’s not really true. And the government has admitted that that’s not really true, because every time they were asked about capability decisions, the Ministry of Defence would go out on Twitter and say, no decisions have yet been made. And they did that until about a week before the publication. They weren’t being coy, that was genuinely the case. And so if you look at the experimentation that was done for the force that the army proposed for the integration review, back in November, it had an infantry fighting vehicle in it. The loss of that capability was not the result of deep investigation into whether or not that specific capability was necessary. It was the result of budgetary decisions quite late in the day around which program could be cut without undermining the others because of the problems with the equipment plan. And so, you know, the, the experimentation that justified the structure depended on a vehicle which is no longer in service and is not going to be renewed. So there’s there isn’t actually a concept of operations behind that. What the army therefore has to do, and we will see whether they can come up with something that, you know, makes sense in the summer, because they’re now frantically working to kind of rectify this problem, is whether they can adapt the orders for Boxer and or other platforms to generate a coherent force. But at present, that’s not the case. The good news is that a lot of the conflicts that we’re seeing at the moment, as Tobias said, are complex engagements where Britain has interests but doesn’t necessarily want to deploy a large divisional force. And as Simon said, we have had a long history of supporting allies and enabling allies and training partners to achieve our political objectives, most recently against Daesh. And the army had this concept with the specialized infantry from the 2015 SDSR, but hadn’t really resourced them. So what that what that led to was, you know, groups of 12 people going out and standing in a base behind the fence, not really doing anything. This defence review has properly resourced that capability. So we now have a brigade which can go in and provide training to headquarter elements, and to support the partner develop their institutional capacity. And then it has the Land Special Operations component. And the reason why there’s two separate capabilities is that the permissions process from governments, to be able to take offensive action against an enemy, is different from the permissions process to be allowed to go and train somebody. And so by separating them, we can have a majority of the force go in and provide that support to the partner institution. And then we can use that brigade infrastructure to deploy Land Special Operations Forces, which are not special forces, but they have received more training and are better equipped, and are specifically given specific permissions by the government to be able to go out on the ground and take the fight to the enemy, and therefore, also provide a plugin point for capabilities from 77 Brigade from 6 Division, electronic warfare, ISR assets and so forth, that can enable us to not just train our partners, but also be a force multiplier for them. And thereby change the dynamic from us just having a presence, but it being too small to have an effect, to us actually having a presence having a relationship and translating that into influence, because we are really adding value to our partners around the world. So in many ways that you know, there was a lot of good stuff and good thinking in the command paper and in the integrated review. The problem, I think, is that while it might have been called the integrated review, it was a thoroughly disintegrated process that brought it about, and so the manner in which those different aspirations and capabilities fits together is not as elegant as we might wish and there will need to be some very careful work done over the next 12 months to try and harmonize what the services have come up with independently, and what the fallout is from some of the rather rapid decisions on particular pieces of equipment from the Ministry of Defence. So with that, I’ve exceeded my time and will yield back to the Chair. Thank you.
Robert Clark 31:30
Thank you very much Jack, and not a problem at all, for some great insight, so thank you. Okay, that concludes the first part of the speaker’s comments. I’m going to open up to the audience Q&A. What I’ll do here, I think I’ll open up questions in rounds of two or three at a time. If I ask a member of the audience, just to ask that question for the audience, for the speaker. So if you can just unmute yourself and ask your question, and then make sure you put yourself back on mute, please. And so the first one I’m going to ask is Guy Taylor. (No response). No worries Guy I’ll ask on your behalf. Okay, so Guy’s question is, how do we, as one of the leading militaries propose to carry out both our United Nations and NATO obligations with these irresponsible cutbacks, I’m assuming he means for the troops. Most importantly, for national security, boots and armour are a natural part of any modern military. That’s the first question. I’ll go to Paul Beaver. Paul, if you’re on and you can hear can you unmute yourself, please and ask your question.
Paul Beaver 32:37
Thank you, Rob. Very much. Indeed. I thought the all three speakers were excellent. My question is aimed at Tobias. Do you think that the IR and the DCP are sufficiently fused have all government departments bought into it? Because this was a great opportunity for us to get it and I see in the IR lots of government department inputs, but I wonder if there’s enough for example, from trade or from industry in it. Thank you.
Robert Clark 33:06
And then the third question I’ll just pose in this round is a message pre-sent in from Tom Warburton. Tom proposes that with the increase in cyber warfare, and the increase, for example, in the Ranger Regiment and the more specialized role for infantry, whether regular battalions will be cut going forwards and future reviews, and the gaps potentially filled by reservists? It’s an interesting question. So I’ll hand over, Jack is the last speaker, you want to kick us off? For those just take your fancy, whatever you feel like answering, please. Thank you.
Dr Jack Watling 33:42
Sure. So on the last one, in terms of future cutbacks, we have probably hit as far as we can go on that, to be honest, the ministers need to appreciate that special forces are not soldiers with extra training, you know, they are selected from a pool. And there are quite a limited number of people in that pool, who will meet the psychological standards and be suitable for that work. So you can’t just massively increase the proportion of your force to the special forces. If you decrease the overall size of the force, you will have a recruitment crisis in the special forces groups. And I won’t comment on whether or not we’re already seeing that, but you know that that is going to happen, it’s going to hit us at some point. So I don’t think that you can realistically expect to cut back on the infantry and maintain the capability that we say we need, and we say as useful. So yeah, if we do it, it’s a terrible mistake. The first point about meeting commitments to NATO. I think it’s actually a really interesting period because NATO has these agreements around what constitutes an acceptable force to meet different criteria. Those criteria were drawn up a long time ago and they don’t necessarily reflect what capabilities offer the greatest utility. Now, I don’t think the British Army is in a position to start going around NATO and telling people how things should be done. But there is a need to update how we measure inputs, and you know, the UK does have capabilities that other NATO partners cannot bring to the table, 1 Aviation Brigade being a very good example, other than the US no real comfortable capability in the Alliance. And so if we are prepared to say to allies we are happy to make this available under these conditions, and they are confident that we will meet that commitment and we’re not promising the same assets in five different places, which is something we might have done in the past, then I think A) we can still offer useful things to NATO and B), I think there is a conversation to be had about updating what constitutes a warfighting worthy formation going forward, that we need to have in a humble and collegial manner with some of our NATO allies. And with that, I will hand over.
Robert Clark 36:05
Simon, would you like to go next to that one, please?
Dr Simon Anglim 36:09
Well, first of all, Guy is a good old friend of mine. So I’ll recuse myself from answering his question potential clash of interests there. Just following on from Jack’s point about capabilities. I think one advantage, or you may call it a disadvantage that British forces come with as an ally is that we come with little or no caveats, as yet. So in other words, we will carry out any role that is required of us. Whether we need to rethink of that, I don’t know. But we do need to take that into account, when we deploy force, particularly force as part of alliances. Okay, the fact that we are prepared to do the whole gamut of missions. And we should therefore equip the forces deployed accordingly. Following on also from the point that Jack made in his presentation, it seems now that the army is operating under what appears to be a 21st century version of the old 10-year rule. Let’s hope that we don’t get involved in a major war for the next 10 to 15 years. Who knows, you know, if then, is the British army could actually pick and choose the wars that it fought and the types of wars that it fought, it will be even more successful than it is at the moment? Yes, in terms of dealing with allies, yes, we do need to have a mature grown up discussion about what we can bring not only to NATO, but to the various other commitments that we have around the world. But we also need to look at ourselves. And the past, perhaps there are times when we are sometimes practiced just a bit too willing a horse. That’s about as much as I can say about that.
Robert Clark 37:49
Thanks, Simon. Tobias, do you have any thoughts on that, please?
Tobias Ellwood MP 37:52
Firstly, to do with carrying out our duties, for me is the fundamental question as to what Britain is expected to do, confirmation of those threats. You go back into the actual the first document itself, the Integrated Review, and it actually spells them out pretty plainly. What it doesn’t do is say, what do we then do about it? And there’s a massive elephant in the room, in what do we do about China. And today, as we see, the New York Times is reporting it. There is a bond developing between Russia and China, which will probably affect the rest of the century, if that actually, if that fuses together, moving on from Vostok 2018, which was a massive, great big collaboration Army exercise, Army, Navy and Air Force, actually, between Russia and China a couple of years ago. If they start to develop protocols, and relationships and how they’re going to defend and work together, that makes our job in the West, all the more difficult. I don’t think we’re going to be fighting a state on state battle. Of course, you have to be prepared for that, but China doesn’t want to go to war, neither does Russia, it can be done; the grey zone was mentioned, this can be done through proxies and so forth. But this whole digitization of our armed forces, you know, the first thing to go if there was an all-out conflict will be the satellites. And that will change an awful lot about how we actually do business. So I hope the compass still taught and the sextant is still used down in Dartmouth. So I think clarity as to what we do and actually bleeds into the fusion of Whitehall, you know, whether everybody was engaged. Now, what is our collective wide approach to this? I am concerned that there isn’t the bandwidth to look at these issues, because the international to-do list is huge in order to recognize the threats that we face, and then how does our military hardware then fit into all that? We discussed some of the issues to do with the land warfare vehicles. I go back to the point; upstream engagement of us doing things let’s say with the Kenyans. You could do that with Boxer, you could that with Warrior, you could do that with Land Rovers. It’s just being in Kenya, and not being pushed out from Kenya by China. The BBC World Service has now left Kenya. Why? Because China has replaced them in support of the state media in Kenya. Now that – Lebanon is another great example – where we’re losing our links and our bonds, because China is gifting equipment. And we know what they’re doing with Huawei, we know what they’re doing with One Belt One Road, that, for me is the face of how we need to utilise our hard power and our soft power, which goes to the point of actual reduction in our aid budget, as well. We lacked that focus, we lacked that discipline, we lacked the thought leadership ARRC was mentioned earlier. The reason why people like Britain is leading ARRC is because we have the strategic thinkers to be able to make the right decisions when we do go in and deal with a challenge to be able to lead troops together, bring all the parts and making it work. And the final point was the tilt towards cyber, understandably, because that is where the character of conflict is going. But I’ve now had it confirmed that all our battalions are going to be reduced to 450. All of them, all the infantry battalions will reduce be reduced to that number. Now anybody that done any work with some of the Soviet battalion or some of the Commonwealth battalions, you know, you go on the parade, square to meet a brigade, and there’s only 300 people there that is not going to Brigade, but they call it that. And this, I agree, forgive me, Simon, when you said, I was, you know, you had questions about the Rangers and so forth. I wasn’t supportive of it. I was actually trying to be diplomatic, the idea that we create Rangers when we’re cutting our Royal Marines by 400, now, I still don’t understand the difference between the two yet. I think the Royal Marines would probably say how on we’re pretty good at doing whatever the you know, the Green Berets are doing in United States, which is where the Rangers is then based upon, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, I’m afraid. And we’ll have to wait for the memoirs of the generals that were responsible for it to find out what really happened.
Dr Simon Anglim 42:07
They’ll make pretty horrific reading, some of them.
Robert Clark 42:10
Well, thanks for those comments. I’ll go around to the next round of questions, please. And Gillian Dare. Gillian, if you’re listening would you like to unmute yourself and ask your question, please.
Gillian Dare 42:23
Yes, thank you. I agree that China is the key issue for us nowadays. But China hasn’t indicated that it actually wants to operate by force, or on the ground, it does a lot more by influence behind the scenes and by investment and so on, should we not as part of the Integrated Review, be looking to pay much more effort on soft power, influence, international development that we do? Thank you.
Robert Clark 42:52
That’s a great question. Okay. We’ve got we’ve got Dr. Danny Steed. Joining us, Danny, if you’re if you’re there. Would you like to unmute yourself, please and ask your question.
Danny Steed 43:14
Perfect. Yeah, I mean, maybe for Jack and Simon. Hi, Simon, by the way. I was just wondering on the conceptual component and thinking towards doctrine and you know Jack, you spoke of vulnerability until 2029, Simon the 10-year rule of hoping things don’t happen. In the 70s, 80s, the Americans, you know, had a sort of gap where they developed the AirLand battle doctrine, harmonizing the RMA into practice. Do we have any indication about what sort of doctrinal vision or the conceptual component the IR indicates towards? It all seems to be talking about capability and not about concepts and how we use the force from the future. Thank you.
Robert Clark 44:02
That’s an interesting question, thank you Danny. And then the final question for this round, if I can ask Dr. Mark Vale from King’s College London. Thanks, Mark. If you’re on Can you unmute yourself please and ask your question. Thank you. I’ll ask his question on his behalf. I thought it was quite interesting. His question is the new dimensions, such as space and cyber are extra dimensions, but they do not replace nor counter the existing sunset threats on which the sun is not setting at all. Can we really afford to cut our conventional forces to meet these additional threats? I’ll hand over to Tobias. Would you like to kick us off please for this round?
Tobias Ellwood MP 44:52
I mean, I’ve made the point. I think I wouldn’t labour it any further. I absolutely believe that the China’s is very subtle in what it’s doing it’s a geopolitical long term threat that’s not going away. And we have to work to accommodate all aspects of that; it was never going to westernise or modernise in a Western fashion, anybody knows China’s history will appreciate that. But ultimately, we have been to lenient in enforcing international rules and standards. And they’ve been they’ve taken advantage of our wobbly, international global institutions to their own advantage. So yes, it is the soft power, it is the hard power to enforce that. In the Soviet era, you know, if the Soviets did anything in Cuba, the Americans would have retaliated, and that was the threat that was real there. Today, the Soviets, Russia can expand into Syria can expand into Eastern Europe. And all we can do is then put a buffer up, we will not push them back. So there isn’t that appetite for an all-out conflict. So what we need to do is prevent them from wandering in the first place. And that means force presence, that means able to hold ground, hold seas and hold skies, as well. And that bleeds a little bit into the space aspect of it, those new dimensions that in the latter question, the last question, absolutely. The weaponization of space was actually happening during the Soviet era, I think there was a gun that was placed into space, it’s, it’s really moved on from there. We have hundreds of satellites, and I understand from the MOD, only four of them are actually secure. And they are watched by other satellites to make sure they can’t be interfered with. There are no rules up there. It’s O.K. Corral, there’s no Geneva conventions. There’s so many things that need to be done, which Britain, you know, would normally step forward and do. And it goes back to my point, but we do seem to be very distracted. And we’re not engaged as much perhaps as much as we should be and, if we don’t do it, you have to ask yourself, which other nations absolutely would. And so it’s so important to recognize that, yes, cyber and space are coming there, but you do not then make sure that computer can’t get hacked by investing in the software, and then leave the front door open. And that’s essentially what we’ve done by reducing the number of tanks, reducing the number of armoured fighting vehicles. And if I can just add a second on because I know that Dr Simon made some interesting comments here. It’s bizarre the decision making has gone on the tank in order to reduce those numbers, but then get rid of the armoured fighting vehicle. It’s a bit like keeping the Lancaster but getting rid of your Spitfire and your Hurricane. Because the armoured fighting vehicle, the tank and the dismounted infantry all work together. And Ajax replacing the Scimitar people are familiar with that. This is eight tons, the Scimitar, that you can move anywhere very, very quickly Ajax is 43 tons. You couldn’t even get it into an A400. So you couldn’t even move it to Eastern Europe quickly if you wanted to. Crazy decisions being made. And a question I pose rather than having the answer is maybe we should go by like the US Marines and get rid of the tank completely and go for agility. Oh, that’s a question rather than knowing an answer.
Robert Clark 48:03
That’s certainly an interesting question to pose. Simon would you like to take the next slot. I’ll just say here, chaps, is the time is pressing. So if I could if I could ask for succinct answers to the questions that would be fantastic. Thank you, Simon.
Dr Simon Anglim 48:20
Well, two more questions from friends. People think I’ve packed the audience. In an answer to the first question about soft power. Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I’m afraid this is another area where we’ve missed a lot of tricks. But that’s really for another discussion. But yeah, I agree very strongly with that point. And we’re in a really, really good position to exert our soft power around the world, if nothing else, because of the English language, and the reputation of organizations like the BBC, the British Council, etc. Yeah, Point taken. In terms of Danny’s question about doctrine. I must admit, I don’t see from my point of view any concerted effort towards creating a doctrine beyond what certain arms and services are doing. We’re all probably aware that UKSF are interested very heavily in the range of concepts that are collected together under the umbrella of so called remote warfare. And that is actually a good thing to pursue, because, of course, that will allow our special forces to gain influence on the ground possibly in deniable parts of the world with minimal footprint, both political and physical. But in terms of regular forces, I must admit I don’t detect a lot beyond the whole debate around the creation of the strike brigades. And it seems that just as I am being won around to the concept of the strike brigades, the army might not be going ahead with them altogether. Marks question about should we be cutting capabilities now, given the challenges we face? No. I agree with the point no, we should not be cutting certain capabilities now, and hope I made that clear in my presentation.
Robert Clark 50:16
I think, Simon, thank you. Jack, do you have any comments, on these questions, please.
Dr Jack Watling 50:21
So I mean with strike, strike was essentially an opportunity for the army to assign a large number of troops to go out in the field and experiment and test whether things work. And they found a huge amount of really interesting stuff, for example, they found what they think is the maximum realistic level of dispersion that you can get within a company group before it starts rapidly losing survivability. They found a whole range of things. And that data has been collected, it’s now been moved into something called the ground manoeuvre experimentation group. So it’s no longer the strike experimentation group. And most, a lot of the findings that have come out of that process will now form the basis of what’s being called the Future Land Combat System, which is essentially the doctrine formation for writing how the British Army intends to fight in the future. Underneath that is something called the British Army Land Operating Concept, the BALOC, which is currently being drafted. And so those two structures are actually forming quite a good evidence base for how the army thinks you can fight differently in a way that is more survivable and more lethal. So I think a lot of that work is being done and is there. And one of the reasons that it’s not being made public is that with quite a few of these things, you know, if the Army says it’s doing something, everyone, me, Simon, etc., start kind of piling on to say, well, that’s rubbish. And they basically just wanted to make sure that all their songs added up before they actually presented it and said, this is what we’re doing. So there’s a reason why some of that isn’t really public. But there is a lot of good evidence and thinking behind it. The problem is, and this is partly a reflection of the fact that they haven’t communicated it and haven’t spoken to people about it. Whether the data for what you need can be translated into what they actually get. So it is valid to say, we’re not really doing armour anymore in terms of main battle tanks, we’re going to fight differently, we’re going to fight in this way in that way. But you end up with a requirement for about 108 anti-tank guided weapon launchers across a brigade. That’s pretty much the number. And if you look at the number that is actually in a British formation, it is a very small fraction of that. So is there the budget to procure anti-tank guided weapons, they’re not currently on most of our vehicles. Then you get into really difficult debates with the Treasury about stockpiles, which is where everywhere, everything always falls down when you start talking about ATGMs. But if you look at Nagorno-Karabakh, you know, the anterior armour is very, very vulnerable to them. In terms of why 148 Main Battle Tanks, I think the army would have actually quite happily gone lower than that. The issue was, is that the army wants to retain the expertise in how to drive and operate armour, because it knows that armoured vehicles are going to be relevant in the future. Therefore, you still need MBTs. It also wants to make sure that Britain has the industrial welding experience and experience in terms of how to build MBTs, to be able to buy into the next generation of combat vehicle developments in the 19, well, in the 2030s, and start working with our European partners in the same way that they that the RAF works with European partners, for example, to develop really, really good fighters. But in order to make the business case work with industry, you needed a certain amount, and that amount was 150-170. It’s been 148. Okay, I’m sure some people are quite uncomfortable about the margins on that, but, but that’s where we are. So I think that’s more about building up industrial capacity, so we can do things in the UK, and about maintaining expertise in the army, rather than having a formed fighting unit for the next 10 years. That is, you know, of maximum utility. So again, the army is taking very, very substantial risks in that bet. But if it pays off, then it will have been worth it.
Robert Clark 54:29
Thank you, Jack. I think I’ve just got enough time very briefly, for one last line of questions. I’m going to pose to the three of you. It’s just coming now from a Mr Hart who wants to know how an integrated approach will combat the impact of hostile states information operations. So particularly in the midst of this and malinformation space, which has been used by Russia and China in contested spaces, such as Europe and Africa, does anyone have particular preference, who would like to keep that question off, if I could just ask for a brief, brief comments or repose for that please, Jack your on the screen and I can see you would you have anything to add to that, please?
Dr Jack Watling 55:03
I mean, I think the key thing there is that the army does not have the language skills, enough intelligence personnel or a lot of the infrastructure, or the permissions, frankly, to play the long game in the information space in some of these theatres, that sort of work, because you’re usually operating outside of conflict zone, etc. is largely owned by the intelligence community. And so there is a difficulty where if we want to ascribe more defence resource to that, and there are good reasons to think that that might be necessary, then you we need to deconflict and we also need to build a permissions process, through the National Security Council to be act to actually be able to get sufficient permissions to do it in a way that has an effect rather than just is sort of making people very active, but not achieving many results. And that’s kind of where the institution needs to come together. But I would defer to Tobias.
Robert Clark 56:02
I’ll hand over to Tobias, please. Thank you.
Tobias Ellwood MP 56:06
And no, I agree with Jack, I think this is an area that we need to get better to understand and counter, because the disharmony that’s caused by sowing the seeds of discontent between different groupings here, the anti-vaxxers, for example, how much of their energy is really from them, or actually fed and fuelled by bots, and so forth, taking advantage of access to our social media. So the transparency that we enjoy, is actually then working against us. And jack sort of alluded to something very, very important; is this the responsibility of the Army? You know, is this GCHQ? National Security Council? So many other organisations and stakeholders involved here, you know, the collective effort of this or defence and security. This is the new domain of being able to understand and protect ourselves, way beyond just what goes on in the MOD. Yeah.
Robert Clark 56:54
Thank you Tobias. Simon?
Dr Simon Anglim 56:57
I’ve just follow on from what Tobias has just said the army is possibly getting into areas where it really ought not to be, if ever, there was a need for an all of government response its to this kind of attack, involving multiple agencies, hard and soft power, the soft power, being to give the lie to the to the misinformation that’s being spread.
Robert Clark 57:22
On that note, it’s four o’clock on the hour. So I’ll take the opportunity just to thank again, the three speakers for joining us today. And their contributions have been very much appreciated, and to the audience as well watching and the questions I apologise, you couldn’t get around to answering all the questions. But please do feel free to join us next time for our next events. And I think perhaps the concluding remark, I would, I would just caution, would be while the Integrated Review was certainly a welcome addition to Britain’s more broader perspectives of where we are in the world and, and sort of the, indeed the world that we’re going to be increasingly operating in going forwards. I would suggest that the defence campaign for last year was highlight interesting developments in in the fields that we’ve already alluded to, there is a I would suggest capability gap between how it marries up with the integrated view more broadly. And in particular, the having a more forward deployed presence will be hard to maintain, with the current operational commitments, and especially in light of troop reductions. And I think that’s a really important, important consideration going forward. But once again, thank you again for the speakers and to the audience. And that’s it for now. So thank you very much. And we’ll see you guys next time. Thank you.