Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The future for UK defence?

In the wake of the 'Brexit' vote the discussions have now begun about where the UK might pitch itself in terms of its place in the world and in particular where it will go moving forward in terms of defence. Aside from the talk of international agreements, the EU army etc, already I've seen the varied interests in UK defence positioning themselves to make a move for additional funding going forward. And maybe now is a good time to sit down and just reflect on the UK's position in defence terms and to look at where we are and where we're going. The first stop I think might be to consider the three predominant positions that I see being discussed, each one advocating primacy for one of the three services.

Friday, 24 June 2016


So here we are. The UK has voted to leave the EU. Thankfully the campaign is now done and we get to look forward to the joy of a bunch of party leadership elections, which of course everyone in the UK is delighted about (about as much as eating a bag of nails). What we can finally do is start to assess the economics of the vote and consider the UK's role going forward in the defence sphere.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Would a weaker Pound really be all that bad?

Lately the blog has gone a bit political and it really needs to shift back to defence. At the same time, I'm sick of hearing 'Remain' campaigners talking about the "economic consequences of leaving the EU" when most can't actually explain what they are. So I set myself a challenge; to try and mix the two elements - economics of a 'Brexit' and UK defence - into one post, preferably without using any swear words this time. Which being the clever bastar... clever bugg... clever dic... clever so and so that I am, I think I've managed.

I was also inspired to write this piece because I'm getting pretty fed up with a narrative that's been going around for about the last two months or so; degree educated people are more likely to vote to stay in the EU, while those without degrees are in favour of leaving, the implication being (and often explicitly stated) that if you plan to vote 'Leave' then clearly it's because you're dumb and should probably just leave such important decisions to the well educated people who know best.

As someone without a degree this really, really gets up my snout. Luckily as an ex-bouncer I'm well trained in conflict resolution and de-escalation measures, and as all of you who've been following this blog (or discovered it in recent days) will know, I am a calm, peaceful, measured, reasonable kind of guy...


Friday, 17 June 2016

A sweary, non-defence related rant

I try and keep political posts off this blog, at least to a degree, as it's really supposed to just be about defence. And I also try not to swear too much (f**k off. I don't). For that reason I hereby give you ample warning of the following;

- This blog post has nothing to do with defence. Not a sausage.
- This blog post contains a lot of uncensored sweary language that is NSFW. Please do not read on if you find swearing offensive or are reading this in a place where such content would be inappropriate.

Warning issued...

You have been warned...

Final warning...

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Iraq and the future of counter insurgency operations

The news of recent weeks with regards to Iraq has been mostly positive. The government is making ground against ISIS, who in turn are being hit hard on a number of fronts. To pinch a phrase from Churchill, it looks like we might be at "the end of the beginning". But there is still a long road to go. And that's got me wondering.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Questions about the Type 26 and Type 45

Yesterday the House of Commons Defence Select Committee took evidence about the future of the Type 26 program and the problems with the Type 45 destroyers, specifically their power train and electrical generation capabilities. 

The meeting was notable for two main reasons. Firstly, the committee performed pretty well, asking good questions and forcing some uneasy answers out of the witnesses. I suspect a damning report will come from this. The only thing that disappointed me is I felt they could have gone after the witnesses a little more aggressively at times, though I appreciate that the House has certain rules about proper decorum which likely exclude such actions as chucking your shoes at people and choke holds.

Secondly, some of the stunning admissions that were made by the witnesses. This was especially the case when BAE and Rolls-Royce were questioned about operating environments and it was revealed that the Royal Navy had - allegedly (I still have difficulty believing it) - not specified that the Type 45 would need to operate in areas of high ambient temperature, for example the middle east. The revelations became even more absurd when the committee pressed the panel for an answer as to why they didn't think to point this out to the MoD and the Royal Navy and warn them that there would be problems in these conditions, to which they just got a bunch of glum looks, a few shurgs of the shoulder and some half muted comments about "well, it wasn't in the specification". It's at this point that I personally would have been shoeless and on my way to getting arrested, so I commend the committee for its restraint.

So for something a little different today I've laid out some hypothetical questions for the committee to ask in a hypothetical second meeting, generated from notes and thoughts that I made as I watched the proceedings. Some are serious, some a little more tongue in cheek...

Order, order.
Q1. I would like to start by asking Lord West whether on not you feel that the comments you made at the last session, such as making extraordinary claims about the level of risk posed by an Argentine invasion of the Falklands Islands when you know full well that is a highly unlikely scenario given the material state of the Argentine armed forces, risks creating a 'Credibility Deficit' in the MoD, the Royal Navy and the office of the first sea lord? Do you not see that there is a danger here of becoming "the boy that cried wolf", which could cause problems for future Naval chiefs - and indeed other defence chiefs - who could find themselves being ignored or derided for scaremongering in their pursuit of extra funding when in fact they may be trying to warn the government about a genuinely serious threat or crisis?

Q2. To Lord West and Sir Mark Stanhope - particularly Sir Mark as this happened while you were First Sea Lord - I'd like to ask why it is that the carriers were not better protected if it was seen as a core business area of the Navy? You've both explained the merits of carriers and their capabilities, and you've both warned about the danger posed by gapping the carrier capability, so why did you not fight harder to protect it? More pertinently perhaps, why did you not find room elsewhere to accomodate the carriers? I find it astounding that you would allow a capability that you truly felt was critical to the Navy to be gapped. I can't think of another organisation, private or public, that would allow such a core element of what it does to fade away in such a manner. Imagine a supermarket without tills or a motorway petrol station without pumps, it's just absurd. So I would put it to you then that either the carriers were not as important to the Navy as you claim, or you were simply just so poor at managing your budgets and prioritising your assets that you ended up gapping a critical asset in order to maintain face saving numbers. So which is it?

Q3. Coming back to Lord West, I'd like to ask you about a discrepancy between your evidence and that of Peter Roberts from RUSI. Mr. Roberts mentioned a study conducted in 2008 that suggested that a carrier group or amphibious group would need four Type 45 destroyers as air warfare escorts in order to fight against a peer level enemy, yet you said two would be needed and that was to go into the South China Sea and fight against the Chinese. That's quite a disparity of opinion, with Mr. Roberts suggesting twice as many ships for a scenario against a much less capable enemy than the one you put forth. So who's is right? Were you simply not aware of this study? How can two people very knowledgeable in the art of naval warfare have such dramatically different opinions on what is adequate protection for a carrier? And considering the study mentioned by Mr. Roberts presumed that a Cooperative Engagment Capability would be in place, does this mean that without it the UK is in effect unable to protect a carrier group or amphibious group adequately in its current state?

Q4. I'd like to ask the two former admirals why was the subject of integrated escort platforms, both ASW and AAW capable, dodged? It's true that trying to build a ship that is truly capable of both to a high level is expensive and not an easy undertaking, but as was pointed out by Mr. Roberts the US have attempted this to a degree in order to save money, and other services such as the RAF and British army have made strides in trying to make their platforms multi-purpose. Why then were you so adamant that the two ship types be separate?

Q5. I'd now like to turn briefly to members of the committee itself for a moment and ask them whether or not they have been briefed about the dangers of holding their phones in such a way that not only the gallery at the back but also the TV cameras can see what's on their phones, and the possible security implications of such?

Q6. During the last session it became clear that the answer to almost every question posed was "it's not our fault, it's all the MoD and the Treasury m'lud". So does the panel seriously expect the committee to believe that the Royal Navy had no hand in its own failings and that this was all the fault of civil service designs on the budget? Does the Royal Navy really not accept any kind of blame for the management of its budget and its priorities over the last decade or more, and its own hand in causing problems for its own programs?

Q7. Does the panel really consider it credible to argue that the MoD should keep infinitely having to pull money out of its arse to fund various problems in the Navy, as opposed to the Navy actually taking responsbility for its own failings and its own budget problems? Is the Navy, and perhaps they would like to comment on the other arms of the services as well, is the Navy institutionally incapable of managing a budget?

Q8. I'd just like to ask Mr. Roberts quickly whether or not he's aware that the word 'Proven' is pronounced "proo-ven" and not "pro-van".

Q9. Does the panel accept the perfectly valid point made by Mr. Roberts that not everything on a British warship necessarily needs to be British and that, providing future access and export issues are resolved before hand, it is not the end of the world for a warship to have say American engines on board, especially ones that are of a proven design? And should it not be the responsbility of the Navy staff, and indeed the staffs of the other services, to fight more vigorously against decisions which are clearly industrial based at the expense of the services, given that it is the job of the staffs to represent the interests of their services, including resigning if needs be. I'm reminded for example of Admiral Band who threatened to resign as First Sea Lord if both carriers were not committed to be brought into service, and who I'm sure is now watching these proceedings with great interest, perhaps from the offices of Lockheed Martin UK whose parent company makes the F-35 and where he is now a non-executive director. Oops did I say that last bit out loud, can we strike that from the record please?

Q10. Before we move on I'd like to answer one of our own questions from the last hearing, that being why it is that these procurement projects take so long and seem to cost so much. The answer being that we as a nation are fundamentally incompetent when it comes to procurement.

Q11. Turning back to the former admirals now, I'd like to ask them why it is that Mr. Roberts, a civilian working for RUSI, seems to know more about all these subjects than the pair of you together? He gives much clearer answers and with greater detail, generally seeming to be more "on the ball". Do they feel perhaps that this is a sign that in future old fuddy duddies should be removed from procurement decision making chains, and that a combination of dedicated civil service procurement staff and young, capable and current officers should take over? Does this suggest that perhaps in future the more capable of the younger staff should be accelerated through the chain of command into senior positions, perhaps through an open application process as opposed to a staged chain of promotion?

Q12. Do the panel, particularly Adms. Stanhope and West, not see the hypocrisy of accusing the Treasury of being short sighted on budget matters, saving money in the short term but adding cost overall, only to then say that it was inappropriate to have too much on shore testing because of cost grounds?

Q13. Moving on now to the private sector representatives from Rolls-Royce, BAE, Northrop Grumman and General Electric, can I just ask why do you bother coming? If you're not going to give even half decent answers then why bother showing up at all? Or perhaps you are the runts of the litter, the people that get sent to these things because if you say something stupid then you make a good fall guy? Do your companies actually employ anyone that speaks English and that can understand it, as many of you seemed to actually and genuinely not understand some of the simple questions that were asked, presuambly because they went over your head?

Q14. Are you seriously telling us that neither the MoD nor yourselves considered the possibility of the Type 45 being sent to operate in the gulf? Did you seriously not think about this possibility and how it might affect the engines and the power systems? If you did, yet then opted not to tell the Navy about it and in doing so put the sailors onboard at serious risk in order to protect your contracts and profit margin, does this mean that you're either a) incredibly stupid or b) utterly unsuitable as contractors to government? It has to be one or the other. And can you give me a suitable reason why I shouldn't just throw my shoes at you right now and then choke the remainder of you out cold? Sorry did I say that last bit out loud? Strike that from the record please.

Q15. Turning specifically to Mr. Hudson for a second, how is it that you as a managing director of BAE were not able to answer a question about when the Type 26 program might actually start, yet the trade union convenor from Unite was able to give us an approximate starting date based on what he and his members had been told by your company?

Q16. Sticking with Mr. Hudson, why is the so-called 'Frigate Factory' plan for Scotstoun not going forward, especially as this was a key part of the rationale for losing the Portsmouth yard and was an important part of the business case for Type 26 exports? Mr. McPhee from Unite said he wasn't sure, but it had something to do with investment. If that's the case, why as a private company do you constantly insist on the government providing investment for you, instead of using your own money? Do you not think there is a risk that if you maintain this attitude going forward then one day a sensible government is going to turn around and force you into a batch based, fixed price contract which will make you wish you had spent some of your own money? And if the Frigate Factory really did promise the savings you envisioned, then why haven't you paid for it yourself, unless of course you were trying to string the MoD along in order to get them to fund upgrades on your behalf?

And that will bring the session to a close. Order, order.

Though perhaps just one last question, this time aimed at nobody in particular. I'd like someone to explain to me how it is that the Business select committee can be described as 'must see of late' by the BBC because they've been digging into what Sports Direct and BHS are getting up to, yet the quite scandalous and embarassing (alleged) omission by the Navy and the MoD to specify middle eastern operation for the Type 45 hasn't even made the website as far as I can tell. I often hear people in the defence community wonder why the public doesn't seem more concerned and I suspect this is the answer right here, because these things have become so routine now that they're not even treated like the national level scandals they should be. This level of incompetence, if proven, should be ending a flurry of careers left, right and centre. Instead it's business as usual for defence.

A sorry state of affairs indeed.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

The A-10 Subsidy

Today we're going a bit defense with an 'S', at least for a short while, in order to take the scenic route round and eventually end up back at some defence with a 'C'. So let's talk about the A-10 shall we?

The A-10 is probably one of the more controversial platforms in military service today. The US Air Force that operates it is not especially fond of it. That's largely because it's an old, single mission airframe. It does one job superbly; close air support. It has problems with others, though it can serve as an air interdiction platform. The Air Force objects to the A-10 because it has a multitude of other platforms that can perform a similar role and also do other jobs such as air-to-air or deep strike. People forget that outside of the COIN wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the A-10 has proved to be less than ideal in its primary attack role. In 1991 the A-10s suffered heavy casualties in both shot down and irreparably damaged aircraft (out of action for the air campaign) due to enemy fire. The A-10 was shifted to medium altitude work to essentially save it from itself, at which point its ability to carry and launch guided missiles became its primary offensive capability.

Three trends have served to further reduce the utility of the A-10. Firstly, the spread of man-portable and vehicle mounted short range surface to air missiles and anti-aircraft guns has blunted the A-10s preferred operating environment somewhat. Recent conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and Libya have seen an increasing number of aircraft being shot down while operating at low altitude, many of them much faster types than the A-10 such as the MiG-29.

Secondly, the proliferation of small, air launched guided weapons has eroded the A-10s claim as the king of precision attack for close support. Weapons like the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) and the UK's dual-mode Brimstone have handed fast air a new set of tools for picking off small point targets, even those close to friendly forces. With these weapons getting smaller and more numerous, while their warheads are becoming increasingly more tailored to minimising collateral damage, the A-10 and its main gun slips closer and closer to irrelevance.

Finally the growth in high-endurance platforms carrying such weapons has increased. Modern drones can loiter over the target area, menacing the enemy with bombs and missiles, for a lot longer than an A-10 can. Aircraft like the B-52, B-1 and AC-130 combine long loiter times with large and varied payloads, providing a flexibility that further eats into the A-10s domain. These factors combined together are slowly pushing the A-10 out the door.

Except that the US army has resisted this at every turn. There are a number of reasons why, but probably the most important reason for the higher ups in the army is the one that doesn't get talked about all that often, if at all; the A-10 capability is effectively a subsidy for the army.

They don't pay for the aircraft. They don't pay for its crews. They don't pay to base them, for the training, the spare parts, or the munitions that are used in their support. Forcing the USAF to keep the A-10 alive allows the army to retain a capability predominantly for its own purposes, but without any of the expense. On that basis it's odd that I've never heard a USAF general table a new offer to the army; you want it, you pay for it. The USAF could run the program and the army would pay all of its associated expenses. Only at that point would we find out just how much the army truly coveted the capabilities that the A-10 brings vs other platforms.

The result of this ongoing subsidy has been that the army has gotten away with a lack of investment in precision attack weapons. It has some, but not many. When you look at the air force and navy it's interesting to see the shift that has taken place. The navy has moved from big gun battleships and gun based air defence to weapons like Harpoon and Tomahawk for anti-ship and land attack, while air defence has predominantly shifted to a mix of long and short range missiles, as well as the adoption of modern aviation assets. The air force has gone from firing .50cals at enemy aircraft to firing AMRAAMs and Sidewinders at them. They've shifted from using dumb bombs and rockets on ground targets to GPS and laser guided bombs, as well as laser guided missiles. Where has the army been during this time?

At this stage I'd like to quote from Think Defence and his recent complex weapons series as he summed up the point in a basically perfect manner;
... the expectation of ubiquitous availability of close air support may be difficult to meet in operations where those aircraft may be engaged in interdiction or attacks against enemy air defences. In the defence, e.g. in a Baltic type scenario, the time available between grinding down enemy air defences and the commencement of ground operations may not be to our liking or expectation. Ground forces will have to be more self-sufficient in precision fire in support of deliberate actions or in response to unexpected activity.
Since the second world war the army has basically become reliant on the expectation of air support. And while air support continues to offer significant advantages in close support operations such as surprise and concentration of effort, this reliance has left the army deficient in the ability to deal with its own business. It has in many respects become dependent on the air force and navy to bail it out of certain situations with the mass use of airpower, lacking as it does a range of precision targeting and engagement abilities.

This is not a weakness exclusive to the US army and here is where we wrap around back into defence with a 'C'. The British army, and indeed most of the worlds armies, have fallen into a similar trap. Many lack the ability to adequately protect themselves from immediate air attack, though this is something the British army is now working on, as well as the ability to provide precision attack in support of troops in contact, and the ability to conduct precision strike against targets deeper in their area of operations.

I'll throw you this link to another part of Think Defence's complex weapon series, the "Harebrained Schemes" section which includes a number of what I think are actually good examples, and we'll now look at the concept in a bit more detail.

As mentioned above the areas of particular concern for me are 1) the close support of troops in a COIN environment with precision strikes, 2) the close support of troops in a more conventional environment with precision strikes, and 3) the ability of troops penetrating into the enemies deep zones, especially reconnaissance units, to call up precision attack on opportunity targets. 

The case example brought up by Think Defence was a possible incursion in the Baltic region, where air assets would potentially be preoccupied immediately with counter-air tasks and deep attack. In addition to this it may simply be a case that the operating environment does not permit the use of aircraft in close proximity to troops due to the risk posed by a mix of enemy anti-aircraft assets. It could be that friendly air forces have suffered a degree of attrition that limits their available assets for ground support. It may be that the complexity and depth of the enemies rear support and military infrastructure requires more assets for the air to ground campaign and interdiction efforts (which are the prime and most efficient use of the air force, due to its range). It may simply be that the availability of air assets is limited - both in conventional and COIN environments - for political, economic, geographic or temporal reasons, aside from operational demands. 

In all of these cases the army needs to be able to fill the void itself. It should also be emphasised at this point that really the main advantages and uses of airpower are not to be found in close air support. The navy retains airpower predominantly for the protection of its at sea assets, as well as to extend the range and quality of its ability to conduct strike operations against both enemy naval and land assets. Supporting troops in contact was never a main driver for the development of the aircraft carrier. Similarly the rise of the independent air force came about as the understanding of the uses of airpower rose over time, and the potential for airpower to strike at the heart of the enemy was realised. The air forces main missions involve protecting the home nation and forces from attack while simultaneously taking the offensive onto the enemies home soil. Supporting troops in contact is once again down the priority ladder, and for good reason. I think it can also be reasonably argued that reconnaissance and deep interdiction are more important ways that an air force can use the unique nature of its assets to contribute to the ground operations.

In this context the land forces really need to develop two types of precision attack; small weapons for use in close proximity to friendlies, especially in a COIN environment, and larger warheads, especially for use at range. 

The smaller natures would focus mainly on hitting targets such as individual machine gun positions, sniper points and small buildings such as houses being used for cover. While the army has a range of existing tools for this kind of mission, including its own snipers and machine guns, anti-tank weapons and mortars, it seems there is a slot to fill here for a small precision weapon, especially in a COIN environment where the ability to hit one specific point with minimal risk of collateral damage would be highly advantageous. Rounds such as those used on the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) fit the bill, a long with something like the Excalibur guided artillery round.

While these rounds are already in use their ubiquity seems to be lacking as investment - particularly in the UK - seems to be poor. There's probably a host of reasons for this, but one of the drivers seems to be simply the subsidy argument, that it'll all be ok because the air force and navy will continue to subsidise the army by meeting most of its precision strike requirements. This seems particularly odd considering the chain of command that soldiers in contact in Afghanistan and Iraq often had to pass through to get air support, where requests could take 10 minutes or more to generate an air asset on station which then had to be talked onto the target. The advantage of having artillery within range which could react much quicker would seem to be an odd thing to ignore.

The larger warhead requirement would on its own fill two sub-requirements. Firstly the requirement to support troops in contact with much larger precision fires, equivalent in some cases to putting a 1,000-lbs bomb onto the enemy. The ability to completely destroy an enemy position in a building, to obliterate a bunker, or simply to airburst a large warhead over a group of enemy soldiers - all without having to call for and wait on an air asset - would provide the army with quite a rare capability that it hasn't really had since the days of battleship fire support in world war two. Except instead of calling in a battery of rounds onto the approximate area, now the army would be able to place the incoming explosive on the spot where it needed it with a degree of precision.

The other sub-requirement of this would be the ability to provide fire support at longer ranges, beyond the reach of traditional artillery systems. This requirement is predominantly driven by the needs of both armoured forces - in particular their recce elements, who can often find themselves operating at significant depth behind the enemies main battle line - and those units in a COIN environment that may find themselves operating at significant distances from the nearest support.

This requirement has a lot more flexibility in potential options for its fulfillment. GMLRS can already, on paper at least, hit out to around 43 miles (75km) with a 200-lbs warhead. Lockheed Martin is however working on a GMLRS+ round with a range estimated at around 75 miles (120km). Meanwhile Boeing has partnered with SAAB of Sweden to produce a ground launched version of the SDB which can be fired from the M270 MLRS platform. The weapon fulfils the longer range requirment, with a maximum glide range of around 93 miles (150km). To put that into perspective, a launcher based at Camp Bastion in Helmand province would have been able to provide fire support to units operating around the Kajaki dam and still had a bit of range to spare (though it might have taken a while to make the journey).

The only downside of a system like the Ground Launched SDB (GLSDB) is that the explosive content of the warhead is only 38-lbs. In some environments, like the aforementioned Afghanistan scenario, that would be advantageous. Coupled with its range the weapon could fulfil a wide range of tasks, from the closer range precision requirement out to deep strike against smaller targets. But it does lack a bit of punch. Still, it goes like the absolute bloody clappers (skip to 2:05 in the video below:

But we need something with a bit more punch as well. A good example is the potential ground launched version of the German/Spanish KEPD 350 "Taurus". With an estimated range of around 310 miles (500km) and a 1,100-lbs dual warhead capable of penetrating hardened structures, the Taurus offers a lot of bang out to a fairly considerable range. If Taurus can be ground launched (in a two missile arrangement off a truck) then Storm Shadow probably could be as well. Not only could such a round be able to reach out and hit long distance targets in preparation for a ground offensive (such as a pre-observed command post or a bridge), but it would also be able to provide support out to longer distances to support forward recce elements, and could also provide a need for greater precision punch to troops in contact. Considering the vast array of man portable targeting systems such as BAE Systems TRIGR or the Jenoptik TYTON and NYXUS BIRD systems, target acquisition and ranging (including the generation of target GPS coordinates) shouldn't prove too much of a problem. Indeed in the future these devices might rival the machine gun as some of the most important pieces of equipment at the Platoon level.

A range of weapons like this would not only free the army from having to rely on the air force for precision fire support, as well as potentially speeding up response times to requests for such support, but it would also end the need of the air force and navy to spend as much time and money subsidising land operations. They would be able to re-focus more of their resources on their primary missions and those areas of land support where their strengths shine through the most prominently. The potential of such precision land attack extends even further though.

One of the areas where me and Think Defence differ is that he generally emphasises commonality and a desire to avoid too much replication of capabilities in different formats (such as different weapons for the same mission). I'm generally the opposite. While commonality has its advantages, I'm generally a proponent of specialism and over-lapping redundancy. One of the appeals to me of such ground based systems, especially ground based missiles of the cruise missile class, is the way they can compliment and even cover for other assets. 

While an air launched cruise missile brings speed, range and surprise - for a price - a ground launched weapon of the same kind brings persistence. It can sit in a launch vehicle and hold a target under threat almost indefinitely, and do so at low cost (naval platforms generally tend to bridge the gap between both worlds). Thus long-range precision ground weapons can help to significantly expand the range of options available to military and political leaders. And this is where I want to take the idea one step further.

One of my gripes, of which there are many, is that the UK lacks both a long ranged, ground based air defence missile and a ground launched anti-shipping weapon (as well as an air launched one). Even as the French attempt to produce a vehicle based SAM using the Aster 30 as the base weapon, the UK seems unconcerned. I get the rationale; the RAF has its own missiles for its aircraft and the RN has its own weapons for its ships. But what about the little gaps in between?

If we look at the Falklands Islands, the one piece of British owned soil which could be argued to be most at risk (let's not get into arguments about how much risk just now), where is the anti-ship and anti-air capability? The Typhoons based their have no anti-shipping capability and the four of them represent pretty much the sole air defence capacity of the Islands. Would not a mobile SAM system give them a more layered response and make any attack more difficult? Would not a truck mounted anti-shipping capability make a naval attack that much harder?

Going beyond this much debated aspect of UK defence, let's look for example at RAF Akrotiri. The base cannot be permanently protected by the UK's Typhoon fleet. Ground based SAM systems and anti-ship systems would offer a measure of additional protection not currently available. Taken a step further, the UK would be able to offer these abilities, along with precision land attack, to any ally that required them, such as the Baltic nations for example, or an ally in the middle east. 

One also wonders (for one is in posh mode) what might have been, and what could be, in terms of land-sea-air cooperation. Imagine operations similar to those in the western desert of Iraq during the 1991 gulf war replayed, but this time instead of significant air resources having to be diverted to support special forces in their scud hunting mission, now long ranged, ground based precision attack could be used to support them. While some air support might be needed, rather than these weapons posing a challenge to air power they would instead compliment it and free up assets for the main thrust of the air campaign.

What if ground based air defence platforms could be used to cover an area and free up air assets for other missions? What if ground based anti-shipping weapons could be used to cover a naval chokepoint, potentially freeing up naval assets for work in more open areas. And the beat goes on, with air lauched anti-shipping and naval based land attack capabilities, allowing all three services to compliment and cover each other as and when the situation requires. Rather than redundent systems stepping on each others toes, they would instead give policy/decision makers a variety of options and responses in terms of speed, persistence and political acceptability.

Predominantly though, if nothing else, I think the time has come for the army to stop relying on others to provide it with its precision attack ability, especially at their expense. It needs to take back ownership of the requirement to support troops in contact and to support its mobile forces. Instead of expecting aviation assets to be on hand at its beck and call all the time, the army should see the provision of air support more as a bonus. And as a compliment.

Next up here will be another post about COIN operations, then a look at a something from Ukraine. You can complain about this article on Twitter @defencewithac, or by e-mailing me at defencewithac@live.co.uk.

Sneak Peak

A post in the typing now. It will include:

- Some comments about the A-10,
- Some comments about the US army's approach to precision engagements,
- How that relates to the UK,