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
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