UK Armed Forces Future Force Structure: An Outline for 2025

First published: 27th October 2011 | Prof. G. H. Bennett

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1.0 Introduction

2.0 Questions Facing UK Government

3.0 Areas of Difficulty

4.0 Purpose of the Paper

5.0 Defence Mission

6.0 The World in 2025

7.0 UK Security in 2025

8.0 Future Operational Environment

9.0 Military Build-Up

10.0 National Security and Foreign Policy in 2025

11.0 The Changing Nature of Military Power

12.0 UK Defence in 2025

13.0 Future Management of the Armed Forces

14.0 Towards a Sustainable Military Budget – Some Awkward Questions

15.0 Conclusions

Further Reading



1.0 Introduction

Our Armed Forces … have been overstretched, deployed too often without appropriate planning, with the wrong equipment, in the wrong numbers and without a clear strategy.[1]

Our country has always had global responsibilities and global ambitions…. we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come.[2]

The UK Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010 accurately diagnosed the problem that has faced Her Majesty’s Armed Forces over the past quarter of a century. With its package of cuts, and determination to pursue ‘global responsibilities and global ambitions’, it goes on to guarantee that the problem will become still more acute. While the armed forces are required by SDSR 2010 to conduct their affairs within the circumstances of seriously straightened national finances, there appears to be no attempt to similarly retrench British foreign policy, and thereby limit the resultant defence commitments. United Kingdom armed forces are thus expected to do “the same” with less.

Discredited within a matter of weeks as a Treasury-driven fire sale of Britain’s armed forces, events in North Africa have further underlined the gaps in Britain’s military capability which result from SDSR2010.[3] The review has already joined the ranks of a series of failed attempts to address the issue of UK national defence. As Cornish and Dorman argued in International Affairs in 2010: ‘defence reviews in the United Kingdom have for decades followed a process in which policy development moves through four phases: failure, inertia, formulation and miss-implementation. This flawed pattern of policy development has led to a cycle of defence reviews that have proved to be incomplete and unsustainable’.[4] As Professor Gwyn Prins has traced, we have arrived at a moment in history when the British political class is unable to frame a strategy for National Defence in which ends and means are aligned.[5]

Conservative Governments in particular have struggled with the issue of defence as the party’s strong attachment to the principal of sound national defence has collided with Treasury driven impulses to cut the defence budget. Sir John Nott’s 1981 Defence Review was rapidly overtaken by the Falklands crisis of 1982. Indeed, some critics have argued that the review was in part responsible for that war: The Argentine Junta interpreting the Review as a clear signal that Britain was no longer interested in the future of the Falkland Islands. The 1990-91 “Options for Change” and 1994 “Front Line First” exercises were only partial reviews looking into the future by only a handful of years.

By contrast, Labour’s 1998 Defence and Spending Review (DSR 1998) broke new ground in that it was ‘explicitly driven by foreign policy concerns’.[6] The Foreign Office and Foreign Secretary were intimately involved in the review process to ‘help identify the security context in which British defence policy would be operating in the future’.[7] DSR 1998 has been praised as ‘the most open defence review ever conducted in the UK’.[8] DSR 1998 tried to balance UK defence policy with the likely requirements arising from British Foreign Policy. However, the 9/11/2001 attacks on the United States and the resulting “war on terror” undermined DSR 1998’s attempt to strike a balance between UK foreign and defence policies.

In 2010 the incoming Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government undoubtedly faced a crisis in the national finances. The “black hole” in the budget of the Ministry of Defence, and a widespread perception of gross inefficiency at the MOD, prompted SDSR 2010.An uneasy compromise between an exposition of the political needs of the Conservative-Liberal coalition, the financial needs of the country, and the need to annunciate a clear defence policy, the main imperative of SDSR 2010 was to deliver cuts to the defence budget. In many ways a backward rather than forward-looking document (the Battle of Britain is referenced in the introduction), SDSR 2010 maintained the rhetoric of global responsibilities and global ambitions. To make this appear credible, the document was less than clear about the future threats and problems facing the UK and the world as a whole; foreign and defence policy were de-coupled. SDSR 2010 demonstrated that the British Lion could still deliver a Churchillian roar, but the reality was that the review dismantled key parts of Britain’s military capability.

Matters were made worse by a failure to acknowledge that the comparative failure of the British military in Iraq and Afghanistan formed the immediate military, as opposed to political and financial, context to the review. Collectively United Kingdom ministers, officials, the media and the public are in denial that the wars on terror have exposed the limitations of the UK military. Many of the reasons for that failure can be laid at the door of politicians who asked UK soldiers, sailors and airmen to do too much with too little. SDSR 2010 thus delivered cuts to UK armed forces at the moment when a decade of conflict and overstretch finally delivered a situation which the heroism, selflessness and professionalism of the Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy could not rescue. For political reasons SDSR2010 could not face the realities of the war on terror. To cut UK armed forces at a moment of comparative failure would appear craven in the extreme. Thus the pretence of success, the nostalgia driven wallowing in the glories of the Battle of Britain, and the collective denial of the failings of the UK military machine have been maintained in order to deliver real cuts to military services struggling under the impact of a decade of overstretch and demoralization.


2.0 Questions Facing UK Government

The United Kingdom government now faces a number of difficult questions as to future defence and foreign policies:

2.1 Can the United Kingdom afford to maintain full spectrum military capabilities, or should it develop excellence in a more limited range of capabilities while retaining an embryonic presence in others?

2.2 Should the United Kingdom voluntarily retrench its foreign policy in order to limit the defence burden?

2.3 Should the UK depend on allies for certain capabilities or should we retain a full spectrum?

2.4 Should the United Kingdom relinquish its permanent seat on the UN Security Council in order to avoid the moral obligations of such a position of power?

2.5 Is Britain’s security dependent on nuclear deterrence or the deterrence of credible conventional armed forces with genuine global reach?

2.6 How can UK defence be best managed?

2.7 In view of the imagined near future what should be the overall shape of UK Armed Forces?

2.8 Should defence, if it truly is the first priority of government, not be taken out of the election cycle and be based on a cross-party long-term plan and not subjected to short-term whims and Treasury demands?


3.0 Areas of Difficulty

Grappling with these questions raises the most profound issues of British/United Kingdom identity that governments naturally shy away from:

3.1 Meeting the challenge of shaping the United Kingdom’s armed forces to the future involves enormous amounts of public money at a time of straightened national finances.

3.2 Meeting the challenge involves taking decisions which will have social and economic outcomes that will impact adversely on the political fortunes of a coalition government.

3.3 In the short term, as recognised by the National Audit Office, it may be difficult to regenerate some of the capabilities that have been radically downsized as a result of SDSR2010.[9]

3.4 How will continued contraction of the Army, Royal Navy and RAF under SDSR2010 impact on the morale and capabilities of the armed forces?

3.5 With the United States expressing concern at Britain’s military decline what is the future for Anglo-American relations?

3.6 Is radical reform of the armed forces actually possible given the very conservative reactions to military change of public, press and politicians? Broad sections of the public and press continue to view Britain’s military present through the rose tinted prism of the Second World War and the long, largely continental, commitment of the Cold War.


4.0 Purpose of the Paper

The purpose of this paper is to:

4.1 Look beyond SDSR 2010 to the world of 2025.

4.2 Highlight the foreign policy issues the UK is likely to face at that point.

4.3 Suggest the likely future operational environment for UK armed forces.

4.4 Outline the broad make-up of UK armed forces necessary to back that foreign policy and to operate successfully within the likely future operational environment.

4.5 Ask some awkward questions the rational answers to which may excite sections of public opinion, but which can help to deliver a sustainable military budget.

4.6 To suggest ways forward in terms of the management of the Armed Services and National Defence Budget.

4.7 To make a contribution to SDSR 2015.


5.0 Defence Mission

UK defence must inevitably be based on a forward policy and attempts to prepare for identifiable as well as unpredictable risks to national security. As is oft repeated the next conflict had seldom if ever been predicted by defence planners.[10]As one commentator has noted:

The United Kingdom is an overcrowded island nation almost totally dependent on outside supplies of oil fuel, gas, food and raw materials, some from as far as the Far East….. The threats…. [entailed by a fortress Britain strategy would] …. are so numerous that they would take up an encyclopaedia to explain; from being at the mercy of anyone with a small boat to any terrorist who might wish to starve the UK by throttling her maritime food supplies, to the destruction of our oil and fuel supply lines, along with our inability to defend ourselves, without fuel to operate transport, tanks, merchant ships, coastal warships or aircraft. Many of us would be unable to cook or have our lights, TVs and computers on and in winter we would freeze. It does not bear thinking about.[11]

Within the ethos of forward defence the military tasks facing the UK armed forces are as follows:-

5.2 To defend the UK and its Overseas Territories.

5.3 To defend the trade and other international networks on which UK security and economy depend.

5.4 To provide nuclear deterrence.

5.5 To support civil emergency organisations in times of crisis.

5.6 To defend UK interests by projecting power strategically, through expeditionary interventions.

5.7 To provide a defence contribution to UK influence.

5.8 To allow Britain to deliver its international obligations, including support for humanitarian and stabilisation operations, as part of the United Nations and other international bodies.[12]


6.0 The World in 2025

The era out to 2040 will be a time of transition; this is likely to be characterised by instability, both in the relations between states, and in the relations between groups within states. During this timeframe the world is likely to face the reality of a changing climate, rapid population growth, resource scarcity, resurgence in ideology, and shifts in global power from West to East.[13]

The end of the cold war has unleashed an age of transformation in global politics. The pace of change shows signs of increasing rather than decreasing. The world in 2025 will undoubtedly look very different to that of 2011. Recent projections of the near future by both the UK’s Ministry of Defence[14] and the Central Intelligence Agency of the USA[15] have come to very similar conclusions about the trend of world affairs. The international system—as constructed following WWII—will be revolutionized into ‘a global multi-polar one with gaps in national power continuing to narrow between developed and developing countries’.[16]

6.1 Existing institutions such as the United Nations could prove incapable of meeting the challenge of a rapidly changing world.

6.2 The unprecedented West to East transfer of wealth will continue for the foreseeable future with China, India and Russia becoming more powerful.

6.3 As those powers become more powerful European and American economic and military power will decline in relative terms.

6.4 Sub-Saharan Africa will fall further behind in relative economic terms.

6.5 Unprecedented economic growth in Asia and South America, coupled with 1.5 billion more people, will put pressure on resources—particularly energy, food, and water—raising the prospect of serious scarcities emerging as demand outstrips supply.

6.6 The potential for conflict will increase owing partly to political turbulence in parts of the wider Middle East.[17]

6.7 The potential growth of European power to be held back by an ageing population.

6.8 The threat of increasingly sophisticated terrorism (potentially being used as proxy by aggressive states), involving attacks resulting in mass casualties, will remain.

6.9 Global warming will exacerbate the economic and environmental problems facing a number of states.

6.10 The need for low carbon and carbon neutral solutions to international transport will see marked growth in world shipping.

6.11 Increasingly the world’s oceans will be targeted for economic exploitation.

6.12 This in turn will lead to the emergence of increasingly complex, integrated and vulnerable networks to facilitate that exploitation.


7.0 UK Security in 2025

In terms of UK security the following outcomes are likely if the scenarios envisaged by the Central Intelligence Agency are realised:

7.1 The world will be less stable with significant potential for greater competition between states over trade, raw materials and possibly territorial gains.

7.2 This in turn could result in a new arms race as states compete in a multi-polar world where key resources are increasingly scarce.

7.3 The danger of inter-state failure will increase.

7.4 The threat of terrorism or state sponsored attacks to our ports, dockyards, offshore and coastal installations may increase

7.5 The threat from piracy will increase.

7.6 Hostage taking of UK Nationals abroad could become a lucrative source of income for terrorist, criminal and pirate gangs.

7.7 The danger of humanitarian disasters will increase.

7.8 The danger of war will increase.

7.9 American and European military power will decline in relative terms.

7.10 In a multi-polar age the world may return to a pattern of shifting alliances, formal or informal.

7.11With a multi-ethnic population, and continued immigration, UK security is enhanced by having a higher birth rate than the projected European average.

7.12 The United Kingdom will continue to be a potential target for terrorist attack.

7.13 Complex, integrated and vulnerable networks (see 6.12 above) offer obvious and easy potential targets for terrorist attack.

7.14 The multi-ethnic nature of the population of the United Kingdom will mean that events in remote parts of the globe will have repercussions here.


8.0 Future Operational Environment

The Ministry of Defence’s analysis of the likely Future Operational Environment (FOE) for UK armed forces highlights the significance of urban and littoral environments as the likely battlegrounds of the mid-21st century. The proliferation of certain types of weapons will make military operations in these environments increasingly difficult, irrespective of concerns over collateral damage:

The FOE will be congested. In particular, densely populated urban and littoral regions, especially those lacking effective governance, will provide havens in which criminal elements, terrorists and insurgents shelter, organise, and operate. Moreover, instability and the adaptive tactics of combatants will force some operations to be conducted within, rather than around, such regions.[18]

The diminution of Western technological advantage and the proliferation of anti-access weapons, such as Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, submarines, offensive cyber capabilities and precision guided surface-to-surface missiles, will make force projection and sustainment difficult, challenging traditional concepts of expeditionary operations. On land, mobility is likely to be constrained by the use of mines, IEDs, or air and space effect, while additional low-cost strategic effect is achieved by car bombs and suicide attacks. In the maritime environment the proliferation of mines and submarine capability will threaten sea communications. For example, in East Asia the number of states with submarine capability has risen significantly over the last 10 years. Control of the air will be an essential requirement for any operation, enabling freedom of air, surface and sub-surface manoeuvre. Airspace and orbital space will be contested, as they will provide intelligence, situational awareness and an almost unhindered view of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is likely to provide an asymmetric advantage in combating lower-technology adversaries. However, such technology will need to be effectively integrated with other sources of information to ensure that the strategic nuances, the tactical complexities, and the social terrain are properly mapped and understood.[19]


9.0 Military Build-Up

In terms of the development of their military capabilities, other powers already appear to be gearing their forces towards contesting power in the Future Operational Environment. In particular the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is undergoing major expansion. As Torbjorg Hemmingsen has commented in Jane’s Navy International ‘over a relatively short period the PLAN has moved from a “brown water” coastal defence force to one with “blue water” global reach’.[20] Engaged in long-standing disputes with Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Vietnam, the build up of the PLAN, in particular the expansion of the submarine fleet and the development of carrier based aviation, seems designed to support Chinese ambitions in the resource rich South China Sea, and to provide the means to bring an end to the existence of Taiwan.


10.0 National Security and Foreign Policy in 2025

In the more dangerous, resource scarce, multi-polar world of 2025, with urban and littoral environments the likely battlegrounds, it will be necessary:-

10.1 For the UK government to recognise that contrary to the hopes expressed in SDSR 2010 it will need to reign in its global ambitions.[21]

10.2 For the UK government to pursue pro-active reform of existing international institutions which it is most closely associated with (especially UN, NATO and European Community) to enable them to cope with the demands of a changing world.

10.3 For the UK government to retrench its foreign policy to encourage and enable regional organisations such as the Arab League, African Union, ASEAN to play an enhanced role in world affairs and in building stability within their regions. Britain “cannot act alone as the policeman of the world” and needs to leave it to other, increasingly powerful, players to deal with problems which are a long way from the European home region.

10.4 For the UK government to play a vital role in securing greater co-operation within the European Union and between the EU and the United States. The Western bloc needs to be reconstituted.

10.5 For the UK government to develop defence relationships with the Commonwealth, thereby strengthening the global English speaking western orientated world and the defence of its Overseas Territories while supporting the EU, NATO and UN.

10.6 For the UK government to actively pursue measures to increase social cohesion at home. Separatist tendencies threaten the long-term existence of the United Kingdom. In the circumstances of the more dangerous world of 2025 such separatism opens the door to national division, terrorism and weakness. The democratic right to freedom of thought has always to be recognised. However, the value of the United Kingdom, in protecting rights too easily lost, and in securing the defence and progress of the constituent elements of the UK in a more dangerous world, need to be stressed. Shared national values and a shared national story should be the bedrock of a new sense of national identity.

10.7 To realign Britain’s defences away from the static battle lines and bases of the cold war and towards the mobile flexibility of maritime based battle groups. At the heart of this process will be closure of some “fixed” bases and the development of three amphibious battle groups.

10.8 For a strategic shift to take place in the orientation of the RAF away from the limited range and capabilities of the fighter bomber and towards A) aerial defence of the UK B) the longer range strike potential offered by UAVs.


11.0 The Changing Nature of Military Power

Maritime power:

11.1 Will remain the most flexible and cost-effective means of projecting an island-nation’s military force around a globe which is two-thirds covered by water. The National Security Strategy document published before SDSR 2010 is correct when it concludes: ‘In order to protect our interests at home, we must project our influence abroad’.[1]

11.2 Will remain a vital means to respond to a range of humanitarian and environmental disasters from flooding as a result of global warming through to Tsunami’s and famine relief.

11.3 The need to be prepared for full scale maritime warfare requiring balanced fleets equipped with the most technologically advanced vessels has not declined. In a world of increasing competition for scarce resources, many of which are within the marine environment, a clash between two or more powers at sea remains a genuine possibility.

11.4 The completion of the two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers will restore essential capabilities to the UK’s national defence. However, with continuing serious question marks over the quality and performance of the F35 joint strike fighter there is an urgent need to re-open the debate over whether the F35 or the F18 Super Hornet provide the better , and more cost effective option. Either way, in view of the performance of new Soviet and Chinese types, the aircraft carriers will require their full complement of aircraft to provide an adequate air defence from attack by land-based aircraft.[2] They are also essential to support amphibious operations and land forces away from assured friendly and defended airfields.

11.5 The need for lightly equipped fast moving vessels capable of combating piracy, terrorism as sea, drug-smuggling, human trafficking and other criminal enterprises will increase.


Land power:

11.6 The need for the Royal Marines as a specialist naval expeditionary force will continue.

11.7 Physical possession of a piece of territory remains the only guarantee of controlling that territory. Infantry and supporting arms will remain the most effective way of confronting insurgencies and providing security in failed states.

11.8 Manpower is the single largest expense of the army. Only by reducing the number of troops will it be possible to provide the Army with the most modern equipment.

11.9 Technological change over the past fifty years has increased the firepower, lethality and effectiveness of the infantryman. That trend is likely to accelerate rather than decelerate resulting in an Army which is smaller but heavier hitting.

11.10 The range of environments in which the Army is called onto fight is likely to increase resulting in requirements for war fighting capabilities in Arctic, Jungle, Desert and Mountainous conditions.

11.11 The effectiveness of ground units can be maximised by real-time intelligence gathered from satellites and drones, and close collaboration on a digital battlefield with ships, aircraft and other units, as is conducted by the Royal Naval amphibious shipping and the Royal Marines.

11.12 The introduction of smart weapons offers the opportunity to conduct operations with less collateral damage and civilian casualties.

11.13 The urban and environment, and the use of IED’s, continues to pose major challenges to ground forces.


Air power:

11.14 Will remain a decisive factor in fighting over both land and sea.

11.15 The aerial threat to UK will remain at a low level for the foreseeable future, and in part the defence of the British home islands will be covered by the areas of barrier airspace provided by NATO and European Allies.

11.16 The aerial requirements (air supremacy, close support of land forces, strike, strategic lift and air mobility) of deployed British land and naval forces, potentially a considerable distance from friendly air bases, are likely to increase.

11.17 There will be a growing emphasis on long-range operations to which the short-range, land-based, fighter bomber, is unsuited (even with in-flight refuelling and stand-off weapons) arguing for an aircraft carrier and the introduction of more UAVs and Tomahawk (and successor) cruise missiles.

11.18 There will be a continuing need for long-range aerial reconnaissance, preferably using the more economic UAV.


WMD/Cyber Warfare:

11.19 The UK has to retain and renew its offensive nuclear weapon capabilities.

11.20 The UK needs to develop its offensive cyber warfare capabilities.

11.21 The UK has to retain its defensive capabilities in respect of nuclear, biological, chemical and cyber warfare.


12.0 UK Defence in 2025

Land Forces:

12.1 To re-evaluate personnel numbers in the light of changing strategy and force structures.

12.2 Will carry out a fundamental review of the current structures of the British Army to determine whether UK defence needs would be better served by the current arrangements of five multi-role brigades or more specialised formations which could be shaped to the demands of particular deployments by “bolting on particular capabilities”.[24]

12.3 Further maintain the overall number of Main Battle Tank units, upgrading the Challenger II tank to enable its operational life to be extended to 2035.

12.4 To increase to two the number of brigades capable of rapid deployment by air, sea or land.

12.5 To further reduce the heavy units of the Royal Artillery in favour of introducing the M982 Excalibur gps-guided artillery round and other ‘smart’ munitions.

12.6 To be able to retain the ability to command operations at very senior level through the UK-led Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) headquarters which functions as part of NATO). In addition, to retain the capacity to deliver one UK, fully deployable, divisional headquarters, with the ability to regenerate a second deployable divisional headquarters.

12.7To develop a functional balance between regular and reserve forces without a boost in numbers of the latter being simply a means to reduce numbers of the former.


Maritime Forces:

12.8 To re-evaluate personnel numbers in the light of changing strategy and force structures.

12.9 Will retain until the mid-2020s the current Trident Force based around four Vanguard-class submarines.

12.10 Will develop a successor to Trident building 6-7 strategic submarines with 3 operating in the role of SSGN (equipped to carry cruise missiles) and 3 operating in the role of SSBN[25].

12.11 Will expand to ten the fleet of seven Astute class submarines with three of them being at sea at any one time, and all having next generation cruise missiles. This would thereby constitute a powerful, unseen conventional deterrent force able to operate around the globe.

12.12 Will introduce into service the two Queen-Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers each operating a full complement of aircraft (either F/A-18E/F & E/A-18G or F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in view of the debate in 11.4) with AEW aircraft and helicopters.

12.13 Will be able to maintain at sea two self-sustaining battle groups, consisting of an aircraft carrier, amphibious/helicopter landing ship together with a supporting force of T45 destroyers, T26 frigates and mine counter measures vessels.

12.14 No.3 Commando Brigade will provide one element of our very high readiness response force. The Brigade should continue to be supported by Royal Artillery Guns and SAM, Royal Engineers, Royal Logistics Corps, as well as main battle tanks and both close support and transport helicopters.

12.15 The Royal Navy will be able to land and sustain a full enhanced Royal Marines Commando Brigade by helicopter and landing craft, and with protective vehicles, logistics and command and control support from the required specialist command ship and amphibious shipping.

12.16 Will conduct a thorough and on-going review of UK Coastal Security and in particular the security of Maritime networks (gas, oil, ports, Channel Tunnel) on which the UK’s economic life depends.

12.17 Will review the peacetime and wartime employment of Martime Reserve Forces to ensure their most effective utilisation and deployment.


Air Forces:

12.18 To re-evaluate personnel numbers in the light of changing strategy and force structures.

12.19 Will be required to support the Army and Royal Navy.

12.20 The RAF will continue to provide the main UK air defence and maintain the current fleet of AWACS and A400 aircraft.

12.21 The RAF’s fleet of fighter bombers requires reduction and rationalisation with standardisation.

12.22 The RAF’s base network requires further rationalisation.

12.23 A long range strike capability based on the UAV and/or UCAV is required, the aircraft being capable of long loiter times and carrying a range of smart munitions (including next generation cruise missiles, Small diameter bombs, non-nuclear Directed Energy Weapons, and Radio Frequency Directed Energy Weapons) and being equipped with an array of defensive capabilities (ECM, flares, chaff, and air-to-air capability

12.24 A Broad Area Surveillance System – based on UAV for land and maritime reconnaissance is required.


13.0 Future Management of the Armed Forces

Shortcomings in the UK Armed Forces highlighted in Afghanistan and Iraq and by SDSR2010 are in large part a result of the managerial structures which have overseen their long term development. The managerial reforms and structures proposed by Lord Levene’s report of June 2011 need to go further.[26] A further, more extensive, review of the management of the Armed Services is required to give them long term stability and to insulate them from short-termism induced by the five year maximum parliamentary term. It is therefore proposed that a Royal Commission be established to recommend a new non-political body to oversee all aspects of UK Defence, including Defence Procurement.


14.0 Towards a Sustainable Military Budget – Some Awkward Questions

14.1 Is there scope for further rationalisation and demarcation between the three services?

14.2 Is a single commander for land operations and a single commander for Maritime operations more efficient than joint command?

14.3 Does the RAF need separate ground forces in the shape of the RAF Regiment?

14.4 Does the Army require its own “private navy”?

14.5 Should the possibility of an independent Scotland have any bearing on dockyard rationalisation?

14.6 In an age when helicopter and amphibious assault landing represent the most effective means to deploy troops into enemy held territory does it make sense to persist with a parachute regiment?

14.7 When helicopters are commonly used at sea in ASW, AEW, ship search and attack, SAR and Cdo logistic support and by the Army for close and logistic support, does it make sense that the RAF should provide heavy lift helicopters and SAR, creating a further administration and operational command train? Is it cost effective to continue with the present complicated arrangement?

14.8 Is there a need to bring public opinion into line with the military realities of the 21st Century and how is this best achieved? Do such things as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Red Arrows, and the horses of the Household Cavalry and Trooping the Colour justify their costs in an age when front line United Kingdom Armed forces cannot be maintained? Is the illusion of power created by such things an asset or a hindrance to the Government and services in their relationship with the British public and in framing a national consensus on Defence policy? We do not offer an answer to these questions, but they need to be considered.


15.0 Conclusions

15.1 Increasing population pressure, global shortages of raw materials, global warming, the potential failure of states in sub-Saharan Africa, together with the military build-up of some states, pose serious challenges to peace and security in the mid-21st century.

15.2 As resources on the land become over-exploited there will be a growing emphasis on the seas which constitute the other two thirds of the earth’s surface.

15.3 The armed forces of the United Kingdom are ill-prepared for the kind of futures predicted by both the British Ministry of Defence and America’s Central Intelligence Agency.

15.4 United Kingdom security is further threatened by internal challenges to the unity of the UK.

15.5 Failure to configure Britain’s armed forces to the demands of the mid-21st Century is already leading to questions in Washington and beyond about Britain’s future usefulness as a military partner.[27]

15.6 In an increasingly multi-polar world, doubts about the United Kingdom’s value as a military partner might lead to fresh alignments in international politics not necessarily in the interests of the UK.

15.7 With important Overseas Territorial, Commonwealth and treaty commitments across the globe from the Falklands to permanent membership of the UN Security Council, the UK will inevitably find itself caught up in international crises which may arise in future years.

15.8 The liberal-interventionism that has marked UK foreign policy in the late-Twentieth/early-Twenty First Century cannot be sustained by the current defence establishment.

15.9 With few raw materials, a large population and a small manufacturing base the UK could not meet the 21st equivalent of the kind of threat that she encountered in 1939.

15.10 The defence challenge facing the United Kingdom calls for:

• A lighter more agile army capable of operating against conventional forces and in urban areas while using real time intelligence derived from UAV’s, satellites and other digital sources.

• An RAF with fewer short range fighter bombers, fewer fixed bases, but with longer range transport, and perhaps intelligence, and strike capabilities based on the UAV.

• A Royal Navy organised around two carrier groups able to provide short-range aircraft with moveable platforms able to carry United Kingdom military power at enhanced Brigade strength anywhere around the globe in defence of UK interests and international peace.

• An overall emphasis in defence terms of playing to our strengths as a nation and in recognising that in some areas we have state of the art, or near state of the art capabilities (Astute Class submarine, T45 Destroyer, the Challenger Tank and the Typhoon Euro-fighter) and in others we patently do not.

• Shaping, balancing and integrating our world class capabilities with our allies in NATO, the European Union and the Commonwealth to ensure the maintenance of the defensive shield behind which Western Liberal Capitalist Democracy has flourished since 1945.


Further Reading

A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy, HMSO, London, 2010.

Carrier Strike: Ministry of Defence – Report by the National Audit Office, 7 July 2011, 8 July 2011.

Colin McInnes, ‘Labour’s Defence Review’, Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, 74, 4, October 1998. pp.823-845.

Defence Reform: An Independent Report into the Structure and Management of the Ministry of Defence, HMSO, London, 2011.

Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, US Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., 2008.

Gwyn Prins, The British Way of Strategy-Making, From the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century: An Historical Study which Draws some Lessons for the Present, RUSI Occasional Paper published in Partnership with the University of Buckingham, October 2011

Inconvenient Truths – Threats Justify Prioritising National Defence, Report for the United Kingdom National Defence Association, 27 September 2011, p.12, accessed 27 September 2011.

Michael Codner, A Question of Security: The British Defence Review in an age of Uncertainty, I.B. Tauris, London, 2011.

Ministry of Defence, Strategic Trends Programme: Global Strategic Trends out to 2040, Fourth Edition, HMSO, London, 2010.

Paul Cornish and Andrew Dorman, ‘Breaking the Mould: the United Kingdom Defence Review 2010', International Affairs 86, 2, 2010. pp.395–410.

Peter Unwin, ‘How do we ensure we can Provide “The Best with the Best”? Mobile Bases versus Static Bases or Maritime Battle Groups versus Ground Bases’, Phoenix Think Tank, September 2010.

Ronald O’Rourke, China Naval Mobilization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issue for Congress, 10 June 2010, accessed 7 April 2011.
Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review, HMSO, London, 2010.

Strategic Defence Review, 1998. p.19. accessed 5 April 2011.

Torbjorg Hemmingsen ‘Enter the Dragon: Inside China’s New Model Navy’, Jane’s Navy International, May 2011. pp.14-22.



[1]Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review, HMSO, London, 2010.p.4.

[3] For a critique see Inconvenient Truths – Threats Justify Prioritising National Defence, Report for the United Kingdom National Defence Association, 27 September 2011, p.17, accessed 27 September 2011. See also Michael Codner, A Question of Security: The British Defence Review in an age of Uncertainty, I.B. Tauris, London, 2011.

[4] Paul Cornish and Andrew Dorman, ‘Breaking the Mould: the United Kingdom Defence Review 2010,
International Affairs, 86, 2, 2010. p.395.

[5] Gwyn Prins, ‘The British Way of Strategy-Making, From the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century: An Historical Study which Draws some Lessons for the Present’, RUSI Occasional Paper published in Partnership with the University of Buckingham, October 2011RUSI occasional paper

[6]Colin McInnes, ‘Labour’s Defence Review’, Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, 74, 4, October 1998. p.830.

[9]Carrier Strike: Ministry of Defence – Report by the National Audit Office, 7 July 2011, accessed 8 July 2011.

[10] Inconvenient Truths – Threats Justify Prioritising National Defence, Report for the United Kingdom National Defence Association, 27 September 2011, p.12, accessed 27 September 2011.

[11] Peter Unwin, ‘How do we ensure we can Provide “The Best with the Best”? Mobile Bases versus Static Bases or Maritime Battle Groups versus Ground Bases’, Phoenix Think Tank, September 2010. p.5. accessed 5 April 2011.

[12]Memorandum to the SDSR and the NSS Inquiry from the Ministry of Defence, accessed 10 April 2011.

[13]Ministry of Defence, Strategic Trends Programme: Global Strategic Trends out to 2040, Fourth Edition, HMSO, London, 2010. p.11.

[15]Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, US Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., 2008.

[17] Chairman of the National Intelligence Council’s briefing on Global Trends 2025: The National Intelligence Council’s 2025 Project,, accessed 29/3/2011.

[18]Ministry of Defence, Strategic Trends Programme: Global Strategic Trends out to 2040, Fourth Edition, HMSO, London, 2010. p.89.

[20]Torbjorg Hemmingsen ‘Enter the Dragon: Inside China’s New Model Navy’, Jane’s Navy International, May 2011. p.14.

[21]Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review, HMSO, London, 2010.p.3.

[22]A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy, HMSO, London, 2010. p.4.

[23]USA F-35 JSF vs Russian SU-35S, Asian Defence News, 17 May 2011, accessed 21/6/2011.

[24] For a fuller discussion see accessed 16/6/2011.

[25] For a fuller discussion look out for the upcoming Phoenix Think Tank Submarine Papers

[26]Defence Reform: An Independent Report into the Structure and Management of the Ministry of Defence, HMSO, London, 2011.

[27] ‘Sun Setting on British Power’, Washington Post, 14 May 2011.

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