Would Britain benefit from a definition lead security programme?

First published: 5th May 2011 | Dr. Alexander Clarke

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Japan, Australia and many other countries have chosen to start fixing criteria, rather like the governments of Blair and Brown fixed for the NHS, they have decided that by having a statement that all procurement can be judged by they can keep it true, keep it value for money and keep defence on target to achieve the aims the government wishes. So would Britain benefit from such a definition/statement and what would the definition look like?

Well from Japan, we know that clear strategic requirements for each service does make a difference and has guided their procurement strategies. The important thing is that the services are able to sell themselves and their equipment not based on the equipment having a single role or task, but on a strategic requirement…meaning that instead of getting a good destroyer design whose VLS stops it from being great because it limits it to AAD, they actually get a general purpose destroyer[1] – which can participate in the roles required for that strategic task and many others. So what are the magic words for the Japan’s navy? Well it is: securing maritime trade & sea lanes out to 1000nm from the coast, combined with maintaining a limited independent intervention capability based on the ability choose whether they want to involve themselves with something or not[2]. Considering the simplicity of the tasking is important to understanding its effectiveness, it’s overly specific but it does ultimately prevent overspending by putting limitations on what can be asked for. This objective is also what is driving the procurement of future vessels, the future organisation and current reorganisation of the Japanese navy – all the things which are taking place are in accordance with fulfilling the emphasis of this principle.

Australia is similar but also diffident, as they chose to instead of having statements for each service to have an overriding statement of security…and it’s a statement which has clearly benefited from the fact that defence/security and is an issue which is clearly debated within the public sphere. The statement has come from this debate and has been formed/developed over the years through various papers, but in its current form is often articulated as:

“Defence’s enduring strategic priority is to keep Australia and the Australian people safe from attack or the threat of attack and from economic or political coercion”

This is the statement which is providing the momentum for the increased sea denial capability the Australians are seeking through growing their numbers of SSKs, and also for the enhanced capabilities offered by the Canberra class LHDs and the Hobart class DDGs. These are weapon systems designed to work with that statement…the LHDs allow co-operation will allies, but also the securing of outer islands and for the support of operations in parts of Australia which do not have that much infrastructure. The SSKs are all about defence in depth, their presence along the key approaches means that Australia can detect and to a certain extent interdict anything which might be coming their way. Whilst these decisions are creating some problems, notably crews for submarines are still going through the process of being regenerated after that part of the service was collapsed[3] for a period in the previous century, and in generating escort numbers, although perhaps some other PTT papers might have suggestions for that particular problem[4]. In the future they are likely to face problem of whether to put a specific amphibious land force to go with their shipping; currently army units are used in this role, but as the leading amphibious nations all highlight, to attain the higher and highest levels of capability a large degree of specialisation of training is needed.
So would Britain benefit from such a statement yes…unequivocal, whilst there are benefits to be had from unwritten constitution[5], there are no benefits from having an unfocused defence establishment apart from for those who wish to spend nothing on security at all as it provides them with the ability to keep moving the goal posts so as to make procurement as long and as difficult as possible – something which often increases the costs of units and leads ultimately to procuring fewer and few of them. As for what the statement should be that is more difficult, should it be a general whole defence or a maritime one? Well here are a couple of examples, using the Japanese and the Australian’s as their starting points.

Service Specific Brief, for the Royal Navy based in the Japanese (as the two nations have broadly similar strategic aims and requirements/exposures not much change is needed):

Secure the Sea Lines of Communication out to 1000nm from Britain’s coast, maintain an appropriate independent intervention capability allowing for defence/securing of overseas territories and ability to choose as to conflict involvement.

Why does this statement work for Britain?

1) With Britain dependent upon imports, especially of energy in the form of Liquefied Natural Gas – the ability to protect those routes up 1000nm away from our shores means that British governments could be pretty sure of their continual arrival and of their ability to deal with any problems along the route – which it would be able to do as any naval force self-sufficient enough to operate 1000nm away from home can easily deploy 8000nm or even further away if necessary – as the Japanese regularly demonstrate with their deployments to gulf and to counter-piracy operations of the coast of Somalia.

1) Britain has the 5th largest exclusive economic zone out of all the countries in the world; this is larger than Japan’s, Canada’s, Brazil’s, even china’s. However, if a nation can secure its trade out to 1000nm, it can secure it EEZ out the 200nm from its own shore line and from that of its overseas territories[1]. Why is this important though? Well figure 2 (on the previous page) shows why, as its under Britain’s blue that a lot of North Sea Gas was found, under other blue areas around the globe in figure 1 are deposits of oil, gas, coal, iron, copper, silicon, gold and many more materials. These are things which the British economy is dependent upon, and which the access to are of crucial importance to lives of its people.

2) This links nicely into the reason for having an independent intervention capability; after all currently three of Britain’s Over Seas Territories are under dispute, two in the South Atlantic and Gibraltar…now it is unthinkable under current circumstances (disputes over flags not withstanding) for war to break out with Spain over Gibraltar and probably that will continue for at least as long as the EU and/or NATO is in form and both nations are members. However, Britain has already fought a war over the Falklands, cannot see the future and what conflicts it will bring and what territories will be under threat (who 12 months ago would have predicted the wave of uprisings in the middle east and north Africa) – therefore maintaining the capability to carry out an intervention independently that can be used for Britain’s own requirements or perhaps slotted into a multi-national force for larger operations.

3) The statement also fulfils the wider role of the capability required to achieve it, and the attendant personnel, vessels, aircraft and other equipment is just as useful for Britain to deploy in situations such as the Japanese Tsunami, the recovery of stranded British citizens in the cases of the Icelandic Volcano/Ash Cloud and evacuations from countries in uprising as HMS Cumberland achieved in Libya.

Wider Defence Brief, for the use of Britain’s forces as whole, and which might be politically more acceptable…however it is kept ‘honest’ by the wider defence debate that exists in Australia, something which Britain lacks at the moment.

Defence’s enduring strategic priority is to keep Britain, its territories and the British people safe from attack or the threat of attack and from economic or political coercion

1) This statement provides for a simple security brief, it’s very encompassing it allows all three services to put forward their views and develop themselves and their capabilities.

2) With Britain dependent upon imports, especially of energy in the form of Liquefied Natural Gas – a specific emphasis upon securing the nation from economic or political coercion makes sense and is something which is a key role of armed forces.

3) It puts an onus on the protection of British people, not just territories providing a clearer framework for the forces when conduction operations such as counter-piracy etc.

4) It supports the retention of intervention capability with a view to the defence of overseas territories…and the supplies they are likely to produce.

Ultimately the second one might not work as well for Britain as it does for Australia, due to the lack of debate within the nation, however it would be useful as a frame work statement, and perhaps that is what Britain should be pursuing. This would come out as something like the following:

Defence’s enduring strategic priority is to keep Britain, its territories and the British people safe from attack or the threat of attack and from economic or political coercion.

Role of Maritime Forces within this: Secure the Sea Lines of Communication out to 1000nm from Britain’s coast, and maintain an appropriate independent intervention capability allowing for defence/securing of overseas territories as well as the ability to choose as to conflict involvement.

Role of Land Forces within this: …(for example) Provide garrisons for key territories and of course the British Isles and provide Britain with a force capable of acting with allies or expanding upon the capability of independent intervention forces.

Role of Air Forces within this: ….(for example) Secure British Air space out to 200nm from the coast as well as provide an air deterrent to protect key territories and provide the necessary land based air power to support expanded expeditionary forces.

This would have the benefit of providing government with a clear check list for procurement, i.e. does this piece of kit fit with both the overarching aim of defence and also with the service which is procuring it’s role, a basis for the services to understand what they can and cannot procure, and finally provide a means with which to keep programs on track, within funding and justification to cancel them should they no long fit those criteria.

p.s. any suggestions for any of these statements would be gratefully received.



[1] Atago (http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/kongoclassdestroyer/) & Akizuki (http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/19ddakizukiclassdest/) vs Type 45 (http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/operations-and-support/surface-fleet/type-45-destroyers/index.htm, http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/operations-and-support/surface-fleet/future-ships/air-defence-destroyer-type-45/index.htm &http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/horizon/)

[2] To further study this please go to:http://www.mod.go.jp/msdf/formal/english/index.html,http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/japan/jmsdf.htm &http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1988/LFR.htm

[3] A lesson which should be remembered for those who think regenerating carrier aviation after a decade long gap will be easy.

[4] The Leander Class http://www.phoenixthinktank.org/?p=259

[5] Although to be honest, for and against of written or unwritten constitutions often boil down to who is writing them.

[6]This is something which is especially important when considering the proposals currently under examination, which could extend EEZs further from the shore line.

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