Researchers examine in detail what Britain’s Defense Command Document will mean in terms of the country’s armed forces’ ability to achieve global goals.
The Defense in the Competitive Era, published on March 22, is the second of the trilateral defense and security policy documents to be published by the UK government. Previous defense reviews have been described as “overly ambitious and under-funded,” and the government’s message is clear that things are different this time around. However, despite the extra injection of money, balancing resources and demand may be more difficult than ever before the provision of defense and especially control of cost growth improves.
This second document is entitled “Global Britain in the Competitive Era” issued last week by the government of the UK armed forces. And it aims to consider how to modernize its integrated analysis to meet all of its military elements. As it is known in the Defense Command Document on March 22, innovations are being considered in some areas, both in personnel and old equipment, especially in the Army and Royal Air Force.
While much of the analysis of emerging challenges seems robust, and in line with the thinking of others, not the United States in particular, some of the proposals for transformational change lack real details. This makes it difficult to make judgments about related trade-offs. One of the key elements of the Integrated Review was the “Indo-Pacific trend” in the UK.
China’s rising power and assertiveness are certainly highlighted here as concerns. However, while the destructive potential of Iran, North Korea and non-state actors is on the agenda, Russia’s challenge is at least as noticeable.
More about maritime
Arguably the most winners or the least lost in the Royal Navy review process. It is clearly foreseen that the naval forces will play a major role in the realization of the plan to have more prepared, more persistent and more distant capabilities. How the services will avoid past problems, which UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described as “overstretched and under-equipped” remains questionable. There is still a risk that the armed forces will be asked to do more, or in some cases less, with the same thing.
Even in the maritime area, improvement plans are uncertain in some places. It will take time for a certain number to arrive. The UK’s new Carrier Strike Group is hailed as “Global Britain’s symbol in action”, but will also be “permanently presented to NATO”. Both of the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers are detained. But precisely how they will work, as the navy can only form one complete group at a time, and the future structure of the air groups remains uncertain.
The UK government says it will buy more than its commitment to 48 F-35B Lightning II jets capable of flying from ships, but more – although the navy confirms the target is at least 60-80. This may be partly due to future developments in uninhabited air systems and the extent to which carrier air groups are complemented by them.
The plans definitely foresee a short-term decrease in the number of destroyers and frigates from the current official number 19. But the goal is to rebuild more than 20 times by the end of the decade. With the new Type 26, Type 31, and ultimately the Type 32 frigates, the latter has yet to be clearly defined as a design. However, as other platforms retreat and will be forced to meet all possible requirements, they may need to take on new roles. A new autonomous mine-fighting capability will replace existing specialist mine-fighting ships, but there is still little on how to deploy.
Two new ‘Coastal Intervention Groups’ will be deployed, one in the Euro-Atlantic region from 2021 and the other in the Indo-Pacific from 2023, a permanent presence as well as the basis for a more dispersed, flexible Future Commando Force. This presence will include the latest offshore patrol vessels, at least until new frigates arrive. Aside from potential enemies, whether they provide a reliable commitment in the eyes of allies and partners will depend on how they are equipped.
Plans for new multi-role support ships that will help provide some of these coastal capabilities will likely have to wait until the 2030s – and the ambitious shipbuilding plan also includes a next-generation destroyer, the Type 83, and a nuclear-powered attack. submarine design.
The approval of a new multipurpose ocean surveillance vessel is important and is meant as a response to growing concerns about threats to submarine cables. However, there is little as to what capabilities this will include, and a plan is left open for at least one such ship.
The army structure will be overhauled with a revision, bringing in much-needed modernization as well as personnel and equipment cuts. If successful, it should place the army on a more solid ground with a new force structure and armored vehicles suitable for high-intensity warfare in the NATO alliance environment. The concept of the Strike Brigade was dropped in favor of the more self-contained combined arms Brigade Combat Team (BCT).
The strength of the army will be reduced from 82,000 to 72,500 by 2025. But the decrease is less than it appears. For several years, the military was well below the planned number of personnel. Concerns that the military might lose their tanks have proved unfounded so far; The Challenger II main battle tank will be upgraded with 148 vehicles, corresponding to only two-thirds of the current fleet.
The procurement of the Ajax reconnaissance vehicle will continue and the introduction of the Boxer wheeled armored personnel carrier will be accelerated. The fighter infantry fighting vehicle will be retired and the middle age development program will be removed. It is not yet clear how an armored infantry capability will be provided by Boxer.
Recent evidence has shown that insufficient funding and supply delays led to less than half of the Army’s 3rd Division’s combat capability in the pre-planned heavy division of three armored brigades. Episode 3 will now shift abilities in favor of both protection and deep combat, and reduce ground maneuverability to two heavy BCTs. It will be the only heavy division of any large NATO army with less than three maneuver brigades.
A new “Deep Recce Strike BCT” will combine desert aircraft, advanced electromagnetic combat capabilities with Ajax and guided artillery rockets. Meanwhile, a “Global Intervention Force” will consolidate the existing air strike and fight aviation brigades. To train, advise and accompany joint forces in high threat operations, existing “specialized infantry battalions” will form a new Ranger Regiment in a new Special Operations Brigade, and a new Security Forces Assistance Brigade will be formed.
The wings are clipped, but the feathers are softened?
The Royal Air Force will retire a number of aircraft and helicopter types and will see declines in airframe numbers in the near term. This is partially offset by a £ 2 billion investment into the concept and evaluation phase of the Future Combat Air System program, which is at its core Tempest to have the potential to replace the Typhoon from 2035. However, 24 early standard Tranche 1 Typhoon fighter jets will retreat by 2025, ten years ahead of schedule. Despite the cut, the Air Force still plans to deploy seven Typhoon operating squadrons to the field.
The air force will also lose 14 C-130J Hercules medium transport aircraft a decade early. These aircraft were particularly chosen for Special Forces roles, which would now fall on the significantly larger A400M Atlas. The E-3D airborne early warning and control aircraft will be withdrawn this year, creating a capacity gap, and only three – not the expected five – will enter service as backups from 2023.
The Puma medium-lift helicopter fleet will also retire by 2025 and take an unspecified type, while eight of the RAF’s first Chinook heavy lift helicopters will retreat. An additional supply of Chinook is expected. The overall reduction in airlift is uncomfortable with the driving force within the Integrated Review for a greater global presence.
The Defense Command Document highlights the Strategic Command’s role in leading joint experiments and creating a single “digital backbone” of a high-capacity network between the Department of Defense and services. Establishing and securing its role has not always been precise, as single service issues threaten to undermine its logic. It is also defined as the driving force of innovation.
In support of the UK Space Command, which will take shape throughout 2021, the newspaper also marks the national acquisition of an intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance satellite constellation. London has traditionally relied on the United States to meet its geospatial intelligence needs.
The formula for trading the traditional hard power “mass” for new abilities is one that many will have to adopt or have already adopted. According to the UK’s skill scale, there are certainly risks when it comes to resisting ambitions, especially when it comes to the Army. And the ambiguity of many of the proposed new developments only fuels the suspicion that the same old traps and affordability pressures will soon reappear, despite official protests to the contrary.