"Defence UK welcomes Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's announcement today (13 March 2023) of a £5bn boost to defence funding. We have been calling for a significant increase in the defence budget for some time in view of the constantly growing threats to international security from both Russia and China, and the latest funding announcement by the Prime Minister is a step in the right direction. However, the precise timescale for this new funding, and the delivery of equipment, will be crucial. We hope that this initial £5bn will be the first in a series of increases to repair our hollowed-out Armed Forces. There is great urgency to ramping up defence spending, and we urge the Government to ensure that the new funds are properly allocated, in a timely manner, so that we can begin swiftly to rebuild our depleted military capabilities."
- Andrew Smith, CEO, Defence UK
- Andrew Smith, CEO, Defence UK
Will Defence Get what it Needs?
The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is on record as saying that Defence will get what it needs. The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has, in the past, been reported as claiming that Defence spending should be increased to 4% of the country’s GDP. The Integrated Review (IR) was published on 16th March 2021 but as a result of the Ukraine War it is already being reviewed and its Refresh (the IRR) should be published very soon. Lessons from that war have led the army to signal what their most immediate needs are, which they have termed 4+1. Those needs are:
1. Uncrewed Air Systems:
All three services have been experimenting with Uncrewed Air Vehicles (UAVs), and the scope for these is huge. From pure observation platforms, that can pass back targeting co-ordinates, to armed examples that allow the soldier to tackle the enemy from a distance, with rifle, grenade or missile. Sniper UAVs are in development that will effectively allow a soldier to send a rifle forward of his position and target an individual, while grenade and missile armed UAVs have shown their worth in the recent Ukraine war. For the army though, robots are not limited to UAVs. They have been using remotely controlled tracked and wheeled vehicles for bomb disposal purposes for decades. Some are now being developed which look like mini tanks and can be armed with missiles and/or a gun. Further developments, using artificial intelligence (AI), are to make unmanned vehicles autonomous, i.e. no man in the killing system once the machine has been set to go; a Terminator. No doubt ethical warriors will rile against such developments but they will be difficult to resist if an enemy is using them, and rumours abound that they have already been used by Turkish backed forces in Libya. Used singly or in swarms to over power enemy defences, uncrewed systems are here to stay.
2. Fire and Lethality (Long Range Fires and increasing their lethality): One lesson from the Ukraine war has been the essential requirement for medium and long range, accurate, artillery and missile systems. Coupled with information from an eye in the sky UAV or other intelligence assets, the ability to target an enemy’s distant logistic support and force concentrations has massively reduced the Russian advantage over their apparently weaker Ukrainian opponent. Medium range systems, such as the terminally guided dual mode Brimstone missile (a very successful sovereign product), following in an off-road vehicle a mile or two behind an advancing front and in contact via a secure radio link, has enabled lightly armed but highly mobile forces to knock out armoured vehicles and hard points that otherwise would halt their progress. These systems are essential equipment for a modern army.
3. Ground Based Air Defence:
The Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, recently said in an interview, “what is the point of having 100 tanks if you cannot protect them?” Another lesson from the Ukraine war is the absolute requirement to protect your ground forces and their logistic tail from an enemy’s airborne assets. Fortunately for the UK we have two sovereign and very effective, anti-aircraft and anti-missile missile systems. The short range system is Starstreak, manufactured by Thales and in ManPad form or fitted to vehicles, has proved to be very effective. By pushing this system ahead with their advancing units, the Ukrainian army has been able to hold the Russian airborne assets, such as attack helicopters and close air support fixed wing aircraft, at arms length and protect their ground forces. The medium to longer range system is MBDA’s Sky Sabre. Like Starstreak this system is already in UK service but possibly not in sufficient numbers. Sky Sabre is presently deployed with the army in Poland to help protect NATO’s eastern border. It has the advantage that it uses the same ‘CAMM’ missile as that being fitted to the Royal Navy’s Frigates and Destroyers, thus simplifying logistics by providing for a common stockpile. Beyond missiles, direct energy weapons, lasers, are being developed and the Israeli Iron Beam system is presently being deployed alongside their Iron Dome missiles. At US$3.5 a shot, this system makes the shooting down of cheap missiles economically acceptable.
In the UK, Thales is leading a team that has been contracted to instal and test, this year, a direct energy weapon on a Royal Navy Frigate, with Raytheon UK leading another, related team, to instal a similar weapon, this one optimised for radio frequency, on an army Wolf Hound off road vehicle. MBDA UK, is also leading a team that includes partners Leonardo and Qinetiq, who are developing a similar system, Dragonfire, a sovereign product, which has performed well in recent tests. The Russians have claimed that because of their speed and terminal manouvering, the new hypersonic missiles, which travel at 10-15,000 mph, are virtually invulnerable to interception by existing missile systems. The Russians have used hypersonic missiles in Ukraine but only against fixed positions, and doubts remain about their effectiveness against moving and elusive targets. In any case a Laser travels at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second. Over the distances involved, as soon as the button is pushed it will be there, so watch this space.
4. Electronic Warfare and Signals Intelligence:
When electronic warfare, signals intelligence and secure communications come together they produce a war winning combination, such that the side that excels in these functions is likely to win, even though, compared to those of their foe, other elements of their force structure may be lacking. Knowing what your enemy is talking about within it’s own network and being able to judge what, where and when they will deploy their forces will of course enable an effective counter response, and the Ukraine war has shown this reality time after time. The electronic warfare part of this combination may also include an attack function, where enemy systems may be spoofed, shut down or even damaged. If there is anything that one can point to as a war winning element it is this combination and it is essential therefore that the research, manufacture, procurement and training, to enhance this part of the defence portfolio, is given the maximum priority and funding.
4+1. Replenishing and growing our munition stockpiles and enhancing logistic support:
A Russian officer, fighting in the Donbas region of Ukraine is reported to have said to his seniors, “it doesn’t matter how often you change the gunner, if you don’t give the machine gun some bullets it won’t work”. War fighting eats ammunition and stockpiles disappear with an alarming rapidity. The Ukraine war has shown that neither side has enough and stocks must be replenished and grown. In this context and particularly with higher tech munitions, having the ability to rapidly scale up production and supply quickly, if necessary directly from the production line, is very important. This agile form of manufacturing will require a large stock of components held on the shelves of the various manufacturing companies, so that they can quickly be thrown together, with the latest software updates. Follow on supplies ordered from the various component producers, who may have to re-train their workforce and re-open production lines to comply with their contracts will invariably take time. Relying solely on the ‘Just in Time’ system doesn’t work when the soldier, sailor or airman is in the thick of the fighting and needs the ammunition immediately. Logistics? If you can’t get your kit and ammunition into theatre and then support and re-supply it, you might as well give up from the start. Transport assets are essential; land, air and maritime.
Ben Wallace is also on record as saying that the British Army is 15 years behind peer forces and the programme to update it is under way, but that it cannot be achieved quickly. That requirement was highlighted in the IR and it will be interesting to see what the IRR comes up with in way of variations to the original assessment. The House of Commons Select Defence Committee (HCSDC) has announced a Non-Inquiry on Land Acquisition, which will focus on:
Allowing an autocratic state, in this case Russia, to aggressively occupy the territory of a democratic European neighbour, will have long term knock on effects that will alter the entire global geopolitical matrix, and that could have adverse economic repercussions that will make the present cost of living crises look like the blip that it is. So it is all very well for government ministers to give well intended speeches on how they will reduce the migrant flow, sort the NHS out, get the trains working again, help people with their fuel bills, etc etc, but some of us have seen much of this before and know it will pass. The Ukraine war and our defence stature is something that cannot, or should not, be side-lined and buried under an avalanche of rhetoric about lesser domestic problems. It is presently the single most important item on the UK’s agenda, or it should be, and our politicians must wake up to that.
Chairman, Defence UK
10th January 2023
The membership of Defence UK's reaction to the present critical situation
The membership of Defence UK includes some experienced and senior people, both military and civilian, a dozen of whom sit in the House of Lords. The members were asked earlier this year: “What should the UK do (a) immediately and urgently, (b) within the next 12 months and (c) assuming Mr. Putin gives us that long – within the next 5 years?”
The main message is that Britain’s armed forces are in no fit state to fight a war with Russia. It is not simply that our Armed Forces are not big enough but they also have some critical weaknesses, driven by the desire to economise and ‘justified’ by the assumption we won’t need to fight anyone in the near future. In the case of the Army, for over a decade the main weakness has been a failure even to define what the Army is for. That the army is now being re-organised to face developing threats is recognised, but aspirations must be matched with the money to realise them. An immediate requirement is the Army's need for a plentiful supply of ammunition, an obvious conclusion to draw from the present conflict. Some orders have at least now been placed to replace the ammunition donated to the Ukraine, but this needs to be continued and stocks increased. However good an Army, Navy or Air Force might otherwise be, without adequate ammunition it is lost.
Other weaknesses? We must recognise the nation’s vulnerability to long-range conventional missile strikes and do something about it! Despite having far more surface-to-air missiles than Britain, and despite shooting down a large proportion of the cruise missiles fired at them, the people of Ukraine are still suffering from the effects of the Russian assault upon their energy grids and other vital infrastructure. Britain’s defences against such a missile attack would be totally inadequate.
The RAF is now down to little more than a hundred Typhoon fighters plus a handful of F-35B fighters (grudgingly) shared with the Navy. Fifty, or so, Typhoons are being prematurely scrapped, not even put into storage! Those that remain are all concentrated on three undefended airbases and there is a serious need to disperse these few assets and defend them properly.
The supply ships to support the Royal Navy’s two aircraft carriers have only just been ordered and won’t all be in service for another decade. This is an example of ‘gapping’ – leaving a deficiency to be filled at a later date (in the hope that nothing bad happens in the meantime. It is by no means the only such example.
In the longer term we must (among other things):
¨ Create military and civil resilience necessary for a prolonged conventional conflict.
¨ Weapons stocks and spares must be adequate.
¨ Army & RAF units should be positioned on the continent long-term.
¨ Build up reserves of equipment (don’t just dispose of assets)
¨ Build up domestic defence industries.
Above all, the political class in Britain need to take defence seriously in a way they have not hitherto.
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“Defence UK is an independent pressure group that campaigns for a strong and well-resourced Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, to ensure the security of the United Kingdom, her Sovereign Territories, trade and commerce, and to protect her citizens wherever they may be. We also call for a greater commitment by the UK Government to the nation's defence industries, and to non-military services such as the Merchant Navy, Coastguard, Border Control and Homeland Security that are essential to the Defence of the Realm.”